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Thanks for nothing


My brief here at supersport.com is to write from a Kiwi perspective. I always try to do that objectively and with respect. This is one of those weeks when I know that many of you will not agree with what I say, and maybe some won’t even try, but here, for what it is worth, is my take on the events of Eden Park.

I guess there’s a lot of anger out there right now.

Obviously many Springbok fans are feeling robbed, but believe me there are also plenty of All Black and even neutral fans feeling just a bit ripped off as well.

As I have written many times before, and as we endorsed throughout our test coverage from Eden Park, the Springboks are our greatest rival and not since the World Cup final of 2011 has there been so much buzz and expectation about a match in our country. An epic awaited.

And then someone decided to let the air out of the tyres.

It’s certainly a matter of record that our commentary team, our matchday panel and our ReUnion team unanimously, strongly agree that Romain Poite got it wrong with his first yellow card. I think the majority of the New Zealand media and fans concur.

Where Poite got it so horribly wrong is that he had the technology there at his disposal to make a correct decision and failed to use it.

Perhaps Jean de Villiers could have been a little more forthright in asking Poite to revisit the decision over the tackle, when the Frenchman seemed consumed with looking at what happened subsequently. De Villiers, as he showed after the game, is a fantastic sportsman, a real gentleman, as is his coach, but at the time, at the flashpoint, maybe he could have imposed himself a bit more.

I did wonder why TMO George Ayoub did not proffer a stronger opinion, but am told that he is only allowed to act on what he has been asked, which, with so much at stake, seems ridiculous.

But in the end Poite had made up his mind about what he thought he had seen and made his fateful, utterly incorrect decision.

The second yellow might be a different matter. I have seen players get away with the forearm fend, but I have also seen players suspended for it – Rua Tipoki got six weeks for one that broke the eye socket of an Australian. They are dangerous, especially when in the vicinity of the throat or head.

I’m certainly not saying Bismarck du Plessis' was anywhere near as bad as the Tipoki one, but as he was already on a yellow, he certainly was taking a risk. Were he not playing with such power and influence, coach Meyer may have been tempted to take the safe option and bench him for Adriaan Strauss, but that is easy to say with hindsight.

He was shown zero tolerance and carded in the second instance because Poite had it in his mind that he had been guilty of a dangerous tackle earlier.

I imagine plenty of other referees would have given a yellow for the second offence in isolation, but in any event it absolutely, unequivocally, should not have led to a red.

It wasn’t just those calls either.

Poite made un cul de cochon (that would be a pig's “backside”) of the scrum with nearly 14 minutes of the match taken up with scrum sets.

His yellow carding of Kieran Read towards the end was preposterous, and smacked of a late attempt to make good on his earlier blunders, and when rightfully carding Ma’a Nonu for a crude shot on de Villiers, might well have sent Conrad Smith packing as well for a professional foul at a ruck during the same passage of play.

I’m sure that some will see all of this performance as part of some greater conspiracy, and I will leave you to discuss that among yourselves.

To me it was simply a shockingly poor performance by a man who has always been an erratic referee at best, and betrays a lack of real strength in depth in the top ranks right now. The trouble is we can’t have a New Zealand or South African ref for such a game, and Steve Walsh as an expat Kiwi living in Australia would not be acceptable either, so we have northern hemisphere refs who simply see things differently.

I imagine this will all leave the Springboks and their fans very fired up for the return match at Ellis Park, which is traditionally the hardest place in the world for All Black teams to win as it is. The All Blacks will get a hostile reaction even if, as my colleague Brenden Nel pointed out in his column, it is hardly their fault that all this happened.

Analysis of the Eden Park test is compromised by the card factor, but there are still a couple of areas where the All Blacks did gain an important edge.

Teams are often conned into thinking that New Zealanders prefer to run than kick, but in test rugby they put boot to ball as much as any other team, and on Saturday actually kicked more than the Boks.

They also kicked more effectively, gaining more distance on their long punting, and frequently able to challenge their own high kicks, of which they cleanly regained five, and forced errors or at least built pressure with others.

The Springboks scored one try from an acccurate cross kick by Morne Steyn, but otherwise, their aerial assault was not so effective. It will without doubt improve exponentially with the return of Fourie du Preez.

The Springboks' ability to get the ball over the advantage line was greatly affected by the loss of two of their best ball carriers, Du Plessis and Willem Alberts, for a long period, and in all they managed to get the ball to or over the gainline less than 60 percent of the time as the All Blacks employed good line speed and efficient tackling technique against bigger men.

There were also a couple of defensive errors in the lead-up to the Brodie Retallick try, while Kieran Read should have been stopped on the line for his second.

Even so the Boks battled with great determination and spirit against great odds, and gave themselves a shot at pinching a bonus point that could have been crucial.

But really, we can analyse and muse all we like, but in the end, we are left with that utterly dissatisfying feeling that we will never know what might have been, what heights this test would have reached, and whether the result would have been any different.

It was the All Blacks' 383rd test win, taking them one ahead of France as the team with the most wins (the French having played about 190 more tests), but it has had some of the gloss taken off it, another opportunity is lost for the Springboks, and what should have been a great spectacle is doused in cold water by a former French policeman who turned into Inspector Clousseau.

So now I am preparing for the trip to Argentina and then South Africa. Anyone travelling that route has to have a vaccination for a thing called yellow fever.

Maybe Monsieur Poite should have had one before coming to New Zealand.


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