Officials ruin match

2008-10-03 00:00

The match between Western Province and the Boland Cavaliers in Wellington last weekend was in the news for the wrong reasons as the match officials conspired to ruin what would have been an excellent final weekend in the Currie Cup.

First, we had the problem relating to the condition of the field of play. Any that watched the game on TV on the weekend would have seen that the playing enclosure at Wellington was in a dreadful state.

It was a huge surprise as there was a press release on the eve of the game saying that the match had been moved to Newlands. Saturday saw the field in the worst possible condition and the groundsman had to use sawdust to try and fill certain areas of the field. At the time the players took to the field, one half of the playing area was virtually covered in sawdust, making it impossible to keep one’s footing.

The alternate venue was Newlands (80 km away), but obviously other unions were not happy to allow WP to have the advantage of two home games against Boland while they had all had to play on the heavy Wellington surface.

The compromise would have been to switch the game to the excellent venue at Stellenbosch, but the easiest decision was to make no decision.

The law is quite interesting regarding the field of play.

Surface of the playing closure

1.1 (a) Requirement. The surface must at all times be safe to play on.

1.1 (b) Type of surface. The surface should be grass, but may also be sand, clay, snow or artificial grass. The game may be played on snow, provided the snow and underlying surface is safe to play on. It shall not be a permanently hard surface, such as concrete or asphalt. In the case of artificial grass surfaces, they must conform to IRB Regulation 22.

6 objections to the ground

(a) If either team has objections about the ground or the way it is marked out, they must tell the referee before the match starts.

(b) The referee will attempt to resolve the issues, but must not start a match if any part of the ground is considered to be dangerous.

At Wellington, the ground was surely dangerous and I find it ridiculous that Western Province agreed to the game taking place there. But there might be a more sinister reason and that is the fact that Wellington had their first full house of the season for the derby game and Boland did not want to miss out on the massive gate takings. The safety of the players, it seems, was not a consideration. The final decision lay with referee Christie du Preez (EP), but I doubt that his view carried much water.

Another failure, in my opinion, by the match officials was the inadequate action taken by them against Schalk Burger for foul play when he slapped Janro Van Niekerk (Boland) across the face.

The matter was referred to the TMO Michael Cupido, who ruled that an open hand slap in the face of the opponent only deserves a penalty. Burger should have been sin binned.

What also concerns me is that referees are looking directly at an incident and yet still refer the matter to the TMO. By allowing the TMOs to make the difficult decisions, incompetent referees, lacking in confidence, are being created.

There was also a TMO ruling on a “forward” pass from Conrad Jantjes which denied Wylie Human a spectacular try. Sandile Mayende, the touch judge on the open side, was in line with the pass and he was happy to award the try, but referee Du Preez and the TMO decided otherwise. WP failed to collect that vital bonus point and could now miss out on a semi-final spot thanks to a group of hapless officials.

The standard of officiating at Saru is a cause for concern. Cupido, a man without any refereeing pedigree and, judging from recent performances, little idea what to do as a TMO, is now a national selector of referees in South Africa.

This is the same man that a fortnight ago conspired with JC Fortuin to extend a game of rugby by more than 15 minutes through needless TMO calls at Loftus Versveld. Yet Saru are now happy to trust his selection of referees and allow his appointment.

•Your views to

•Michael Katzenellenbogen is a former Test referee and lives in Pietermaritzburg.

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