TMO calls in the spotlight....again
The giants are rumbling and the teams that have enjoyed life at or near the top of the table over the past couple of months have been forewarned.
The Chiefs may be the top of the log in Super Rugby, but to me it’s the Crusaders and Bulls who emerge from the weekend as the teams to fear most….hands up who would fancy playing either of those two on their home turf.
With Kieran Read back, and Daniel Carter back in control, the Crusaders could afford to bench Israel Dagg and still come away from their clash with the Blues with an emphatic 20-point victory…..this against a side with an excellent defensive record this season, and a potent attack.
It was not a night for expansive rugby, it was never going to be pretty with persistent drizzle throughout, but the Crusaders made the percentage plays, kept the Blues pinned deep and strangled them with their defence…a combination of speed off the line and accuracy in contact. They did not miss a single tackle in the second half.
They have two games left against the Chiefs, home games against the Hurricanes and Waratahs, and an away game against the Highlanders. They will make the top six, it’s just a matter of how high up.
A measure of the Crusaders' defence is that the Blues were held to single figures for the first time in 98 games, spanning seven years.
Who knows if the game would have changed had TMO Keith Brown seen fit to award a try when Frank Halai went over midway through the second half, but he decided there was insufficient proof of the ball being grounded and that was that. Somehow, I don’t think it would have made a difference if the try had been awarded.
Brown was erring very much on the side of caution with that call, but he was bang on with his decision to bin Culum Retallick, but not award a penalty try late in the first half for a deliberate knock as the Crusaders threatened to score.
There was sufficient doubt over whether a try “probably would have been scored” as the law stipulates, and he was adhering to the requirement laid out at the start of the competition that such decisions be based on the clear and obvious.
It was a far cry from the manner in which Matt Goddard just about fell over himself in his haste to award the Rebels a penalty try that swung their match over the Stormers.
Even had Nick Phipps not had his progress slowed by a jersey tug, would he “probably” have beaten Bryan Habana to the ball in the in goal? And did Scott Higginbotham not knock the ball on beforehand anyway?
The thing with the call in Melbourne is that it changed a game, and therefore becomes the subject of a furore.
Because the game at Loftus was a blowout there has been barely a mention of the decision to allow Akona Ndungane's try for the Bulls against the Highlanders after a clearly forward pass. It may not have changed the result, but it still wasn’t right.
It would be good not to have to talk about it this issue so often, but clearly there is something wrong with what is happening and Sanzar needs to do something about it.
Firstly they need to make sure these guys are watching the pictures on good sized, high definition monitors. Secondly they need to make a few calls on who they appoint to these roles. Why should someone who couldn’t cut it as a top level ref be entrusted with a role that is now almost as important?
But back to Loftus, and the Bulls were on the rampage to give Pierre Spies a fitting present for his century of matches.
Spies has his critics, but to me he’s the barometer of how the Bulls are travelling. If he’s getting ball in hand and running hard, then you know the Bulls are on a roll, and you’ve got problems.
Moving into second is a big step, because they have a game in hand over the Brumbies and are closing in on the Chiefs who are staggering towards the break because of all their injuries. Top two in this competition is huge.
Much will depend on two home and away “derby” series still to be played. The Crusaders and Chiefs meet this Friday and again in early July, and even if the Sharks are on life support I can’t imagine they’ll be offering any free passes to the Bulls in the two matches they have against each other.
The Stormers might well be out of contention now…it’s not impossible to win all of their remaining games, but that’s what they have to do, and they have to score a lot of tries….put it this way, everyone in New Zealand has written the Hurricanes off and they’re four points and two places further up the table than the Stormers. Maybe the Sharks still have faint hopes, but they might have to beat the Bulls twice.
I’ve still got my money on the Cheetahs as the best chance of a second South African presence in the playoffs and they didn’t let me down with their effort against the Reds. The Reds made a lot of the play but you gotta love the way the Cheetahs pounced for their points, especially those two great efforts by Piet van Zyl. How many good halfbacks are there in this competition?
In Australia the Reds and Brumbies have been very good most of the season but have between them won just three games in the last five weeks. They’re still occupying high spots on the table and one of them will have a place at the top table come playoff time, but one could miss out altogether as the Waratahs have a good run going and are threatening to come through the pack. Israel Folau looks phenomenal.
All through the first three months of this competition I’ve had the feeling that vying for places in the Wallaby team to play the The British and Irish Lions has brought the best out of the Aussie players, but now the Super Rugby coaches might have to be on guard over the next two weeks to make sure it doesn’t turn from being an incentive to a distraction.
For some, the competition is almost over. For others it’s just starting.