That was a shocker!
The magnitude of the All Blacks' win at Eden Park was a massive setback to South Africa’s chances of winning the Castle Lager Rugby Championship and setting up the final match at Ellis Park as a genuine decider.
By picking up five log points to none, Kieran Read’s team have heaped pressure on the Springboks in the sense that Jean de Villiers’ men, faced with a four-point deficit on the log heading into the home leg against the antipodean nations, are probably now going to have to do more than just win those games if they want to clinch the trophy.
The All Blacks go to Argentina next and will be expected to win there and should also be backed to grab a bonus point, so just how realistic the chances of the Boks overhauling the Kiwis will be in the return clash between the top two sides in Johannesburg, could depend on them grabbing a bonus-point win against Australia. On the highveld you would back them to do that, but in Cape Town you suspect it might be more difficult.
Even then, a deficit of four going into the Ellis Park clash would leave the Boks with a mountain to climb in that they will either have to win while denying the All Black a bonus point, or if the All Blacks do get a point from the game, the Boks will need to score four tries.
Whatever happens, the outlook for the Boks from here is far bleaker than it would have been had it not been for the absolute shocker produced by French referee Roman Poite that significantly aided the All Blacks and marred what was billed as the biggest match since World Cup 2011 but instead turned into a showcase of the refereeing incompetence that continues to blight the sport.
The All Blacks will be pleased to have won by a 14-point margin, but surely even their most rabid supporters would have ended up feeling like I did – cheated.
Heyneke Meyer will probably have been his usual diplomatic self after the game, but had the Springbok coach risked sanction by aiming a volley of abuse in referee Romain Poite’s direction, he would have been perfectly justified. The yellow card that Bismarck du Plessis was shown for his big hit on Dan Carter was quite simply one of the most abysmal decisions I have ever seen – and there have been many! The later call, the one that earned the hooker his early shower, was more marginal, but it would never have been a red had it not been for that earlier ridiculous decision.
I would argue that neither of the incidents deserved the sanction of being sent off the field, and it takes me back to what Jean de Villiers was picked up saying to the referee during last week’s match in Brisbane when the TMO was being called in to adjudicate on an incident involving Flip van der Merwe: “If that’s a yellow card, then we might as well not be playing contact.”
Indeed, just lately I’ve found myself wondering what the late Dr Danie Craven, he of the famous “Rugby is a man’s game” quote, would be thinking if he were watching modern rugby and witnessing the increasing over-sanitisation of the sport.
The long and the short of it is that referees these days appear to be far too quick to brandish cards, and they’re having a massive impact on results. You just need to think back a few weeks to the Currie Cup match between Western Province and the Lions for another example similar to the Eden Park one.
It was shaping up to be a good game before Du Plessis’ first card at Eden Park. But having a player of his stature off the field for 10 minutes put his team at a massive disadvantage because of the scrambling that had to be done while he was off. The Boks did well to fight back from the seven-pointer they conceded while they had a disadvantage in numbers, but then came Du Plessis’ second card, and there almost wasn’t any point in watching the game after that.
The All Black celebrations were surely rendered hollow by the knowledge that they were playing 15 against 14 for more than half the match, and if they watch the replay of the first Du Plessis incident, which the referee had a chance to do on the big screen, then they will know he was sent off for a hard but fair tackle.
And just in case you think this is being driven by parochialism, let me add that I thought the yellow card incurred by Kieran Read later in the game was also the result of overly officious refereeing. The only dinkum yellow card in the game was the one that was shown to Ma’a Nonu a few minutes later. But should rugby ever be 15 against 14, or 14 players against 13 for that matter, except in really exceptional circumstances?
The best Bok player was probably Du Plessis in the time that he was on the field, which only served to make the refereeing shambles that blighted this game more inexcusable.
There’s still a lot for the Boks to play for as they can still win the Rugby Championship, but refereeing incompetence has played a massive hand in making it a whole lot more difficult for them than it needed to be. They may well have lost had it been 15 against 15 for the whole match in Auckland, but it is unlikely it will have been by as big a margin and that they would have conceded four tries.
With the role played in determining the direction of the last World Cup by the Bryce Lawrence freak show still fresh in the memory, surely it’s now high time that the stake-holders who are losing out let the IRB know that enough is enough and something radical needs to be done to redress the situation.
When refereeing decisions play the role they did in this match, it feels like I’ve wasted 80 precious minutes of my life, so goodness knows how the players must feel about it.