Sanity prevails

2013-09-17 00:00

SANITY finally prevailed yesterday when Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis was cleared of the red card he received during Saturday’s Rugby Championship international against the All Blacks at Eden Park in Auckland.

Du Plessis was red-carded in the first minute of the second half following his two controversial yellow cards.

The Bok hooker was on Sunday instructed to face a disciplinary hearing by Sanzar’s duty judicial officer Adam Casselden, who could have immediately resolved the issue, but clearly believed that Du Plessis should be further disciplined.

The hearing was scheduled to be held by video conference today, but it was brought forward a day following an application by Du Plessis’s representative, Gerrie Swart.

Sanzar judicial officer Terry Willis from Australia ruled that the red card issued against Du Plessis should be removed from his disciplinary record.

Willis was assisted by former professional player David Croft from Australia and submissions were made on behalf of the player while video footage was also reviewed.

Willis found that the decision made by French referee Romain Poite to issue a yellow card as a result of the tackle by Du Plessis on Dan Carter was wrong as the tackle was within the Laws of the Game.

He said that no further sanction would be imposed on the player. However, the second yellow card, after Du Plessis had caught All Black Liam Messam in the throat while trying to fend off tacklers, would remain on his record.

The International Rugby Board (IRB) issued an unprecedented statement on Sunday confirming that Poite had erred in the Test and that the referee had admitted he had been wrong.

There were fears in the Springbok camp that Sanzar officials, with egg on their faces after the farcical events at Eden Park, would close ranks, turning Du Plessis’s second yellow card into a straight red.

The suspension of Du Plessis would obviously have added further fuel to the raging controversy while highlighting the inconsistencies in Sanzar’s citing process.

Du Plessis, leading with his forearm in heavy traffic, did strike Messam in the throat. It was certainly illegal but it was unintentional. (Messam remarked later that he had learnt he should tackle lower).

Later in the half there was the cynical felling of the unsuspecting Springbok captain Jean de Villiers by All Black centre Ma’a Nonu, a deliberate, without-arms assault that was metres off the ball and certainly dangerous.

Justin Marshall, the former All Black scrumhalf and the most objective of New Zealand commentators, remarked that “unfortunately it’s something Nonu does regularly”.

And England rugby writer Steve James provided a neutral view in the Daily Telegraph: “It was a tackle much, much worse than that of Du Plessis”.

Yet Nonu was not told to front up at a judicial hearing.

While the IRB has already acknowledged that mistakes were made in the handling of Du Plessis, the SA Rugby Union will not let the matter rest.

Saru vice-president Mark Alexander said that only highly competent referees should be in charge of high-profile internationals played to an audience of millions.

“The matter will be taken further with the IRB, especially now that they have apologised. We have to find out why things could have turned out so wrong with the decisions,” said Alexander.

Alexander said he remained unconvinced that Du Plessis should have received a second yellow card.

“Even that was questionable if one looks at how other players also lead with the elbow,” Alexander said. “We are working hard with our technical officials to deal with the IRB around issues concerning referees. We believe our technical team is on top of things.”

De Villiers, on his return to South Africa, said his team needed to put Saturday’s drama behind them and look to improve.

He said it was difficult to gauge the team’s performance against the All Blacks as the yellow cards changed their game plan.

“It is tough because we didn’t start well and when we thought we got back into the game, then the first yellow card. Then we sort of clawed ourselves back into the game again and then Bissie was sent off.

“Defensively we were not good, we slipped too many tackles, we gave them too much momentum and we weren’t accurate in those areas.”

The Boks face the Wallabies at Newlands on September 28 while the All Blacks travel to Argentina.

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