Richard Ferguson and I recently talked about how the Springboks versus All Blacks game was going to be memorable. Well, it was. But for all the wrong reasons. The All Blacks have maintained their unbeaten record, and sit atop the table. This victory however is tainted at the very least by shockingly poor decisions by referee Romain Poite, which took what was meant to be an epic clash and turned it into a total farce.
From the beginning of the game the intensity levels were high. Liam Messam lead an electrifying Haka which had stand in Captain Kieran Read in full beast mode, and even got the attention of the Springbok prop Jannie du Plessis. The 86th meeting of these two great sporting nations, where the Springboks have not been victorious since 1937, looked to be the fight we all expected early on.
The Springboks utilised their 35kg weight advantage to blistering effect early in the first half. Brian Habana then engaged in something of a kicking duel, with one of his kicks going awry at the end allowing Ma’a Nonu to pounce, kicking the ball beautifully into space, setting up an attacking lineout that was monstered by Owen Franks, setting Read up for the first of his two tries.
Even then the South African pressure did not let up, Israel Dagg having to clear from within the All Blacks goal on one occasions. Eben Etzebeth asserted himself early in the lineout scenarios, Brodie Retallick not helping things by playing the man in the air during one of these lineouts gifting an easy three points to the boot of Morne Steyn.
Midway through the first half though the game took a darker turn as Dan Carter was demolished by a massive hot from hooker Bismark du Plessis. Amid speculation of high tackles, while Carter remained crumpled on the ground, and with the massed All Blacks fans screaming for a sin bin, Romain Poite sensibly chose to ask the Television Match Official George Ayoumb if there was “any evidence of foul play”
Ayoumb correctly advised referee Poite that there was indeed no evidence of anything untoward. After multiple replays it was evident the tackle from du Plessis was hard, crushing, brutal, and totally legal.
So why the hell the referee then chose to yellow card and sin bin du Plessis for ten minutes I have no idea. The Television commentary stated the ref was wrong, even All Blacks legend Sean Fitzpatrick stated the ref was wrong. Little did we know the impact this shocking decision would have in the second half.
Carter remained sidelined for the rest of the game, bringing Beauden Barrett back into the mix. Barrett quickly inserted himself into the flow of the game, making a quick line break up the field, before being cut down, while great support play then saw Brodie Retallick cross for his first ever test try.
du Plessis was not warmly received back onto the field after his ten minute break, even less so when shortly afterwards South Africa elected to defer a kick on goal to set up an amazing drive which saw du Plessis cross the line and open the scoring account for the Bok’s.
By the time the first half ended, the game still looked fairly even, and either side could have taken a shot at the victory. That however was utterly dashed by Poite’s totally ineffective and idiotic refereeing early in the second half.
Bismark du Plessis, trying to defend himself in a tackle from Liam Messam, managed to get an elbow into Messam’s collar bone. Poite saw this as a yellow card offence, and as it was the second of du Plessis’s night that became a red card.
Poite cost South Africa one of their star players, probably cost them their only real shot at victory, and I for one am totally disgusted by his ridiculous calls. Referees at this level need to be held in much greater account to their actions, especially when he had previously consulted with a TMO, then totally ignored the feedback. Poite should not have been allowed to continue making such foolish calls, he even screwed up the actual calling of a scrum feed, using the calls from last season, confusing the players and taking over two and a half minutes to perform a task that should have taken thirty seconds.
Yes, Sam Cane crossed the line for a bonus point try. Yes I’m happy we won. I’m just finding it hard to actually celebrate a win which has come at the expense of the spirit of the game. Poite ended up handing out two further yellow cards to Kieran Read (Line Out interference) and Ma’a Nonu (late tackle/shoulder charge) and neither really seemed cardable offences.
All in all, a very disappointing finish to the build up of what was to be the match of the series. I am thoroughly pissed off, I know a lot of South African fans are pissed off….and frankly I think they have every right to be.
I only hope the next time we face South Africa at home the ref has a few extra brain cells. And a clue about what the rules of the game actually are.
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