Sharks will play rucks to the whistle

2012-03-09 00:00

THE Sharks are determined to stay on the right side of referee Mark Lawrence when they take on the Lions in tomorrow evening’s crunch Super Rugby game at King’s Park.

The Sharks have been hurt by the referee, and a lopsided penalty count, in their three most recent games — the Currie Cup final against the Lions at Ellis Park late last year and the opening two games in this year’s Super Rugby competition in Pretoria and Cape Town. Lawrence was in charge of the Currie Cup final and last weekend’s game at Newlands while fellow-South African Jonathan Kaplan refereed the Sharks’ Super Rugby opener against the Bulls at Loftus.

Lawrence was particularly harsh in dealing with the Sharks at Newlands last Saturday, when the second-half penalty count was 10-1 in favour of the home team.

While the Sharks conceded that they had made mistakes, they also believe that a number of the calls were, at best, marginal. They are adamant that hooker Bismarck du Plessis twice “beat the ruck” and stole the ball from the Stormers before the maul had gone to ground when he was penalised.

They are convinced that the ball was out of the ruck when flank and captain Keegan Daniel conceded the penalty in the closing moments, which settled the contest and presented their match-winning penalty.

Coach John Plumtree, with good reason and because Lawrence will referee tomorrow’s game, has remained diplomatic in his comments.

“Discipline has let us down at important times,” he said this week. “Some of the things that we should have controlled in both Cape Town and Pretoria we did not.”

Plumtree said there were critical moments in every close game.

“Those are the ones we have to nail, but we let ourselves down by putting ourselves under pressure.”

He said that the Sharks coaching staff had studied the video of the Newlands game.

“We’ve gone through everything and there were definitely calls where we see why Mark Lawrence made the decisions he did.

“But with every referee’s performance there are a couple of calls we believe could have gone either way.

“Mark is very strict at the breakdown — stricter than some of the other referees — and it’s an area where we gave away the majority of the penalties at the weekend.

“So we have to be lily-white when it comes to some of those opportunities [trying to steal the ball at the breakdown].”

Plumtree said he was looking to his loose forwards for turnover possession. “We want them to be able to do that, but they need to make sure they pick the right moments and that they’re accurate [in their timing].

“We turned Stormers over more at ruck time than they did to us and that was a positive. The problem was that too often we also got penalised for it.”

In Cape Town yesterday, coach and former Springbok centre Brendan Venter echoed these views when he said that referees were forcing coaches to focus on defence rather than attack.

Stormers coach Allister Coetzee agreed.

“We’re still better off if we score fewer tries, but in the process do not concede any,” he told News 24.

Venter, the technical director of English club Saracens, said that referees were helping teams that focused on defence rather than attack.

“Coaches are now paying more attention to defence because they will do whatever is necessary to win matches.”

He said that until referees started to encourage attacking play, teams would concentrate on kicking the ball rather than playing with it.

“The referees are making it too easy for the defensive team and too hard for the attacking team,” he said.

Lawrence will be in the hot seat at King’s Park tomorrow evening and this time he will have some 30 000 amateur referees, all Sharks supporters, on his back. It will be the bumpiest of rides.

The match kicks off at 5.05 pm.



Today’s Super Rugby fixtures:

Crusaders vs Chiefs at 8.35 am

Force vs Hurricanes at 1.05 pm


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