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Time to tip the refs off

This week we want to start off the SuperWrap by congratulating the Cheetahs, the Sharks and the Stormers on their respective victories in week six of this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby tournament.

Your wins were impressive for a variety of reasons, but all well deserved, and it meant just as much to us long-suffering fans as it did to you.

To the Bulls: bad luck. If JJ Engelbrecht had played in white boots you would have won that one. Or, of course, if you hadn’t missed those 18 tackles before halftime.

To the Kings: good luck. The scoreline in your opening match on tour seems to suggest that you’re going to need it.

To our regular readers we want to apologise. We rushed through our normally comprehensive team analysis like a Ford Sierra through Voortrekker Road in Pretoria, but this week we have more important things to discuss.

Important things like the “What the hell was that, Mr Ref!” that thundered through living rooms throughout South Africa on Saturday. If you want to stamp out something on the rugby field, shouldn’t you wait for it to actually happen before you start throwing cards around?

If you happened to have found yourselves in quieter surroundings, we’ll explain. On Saturday our esteemed Super Rugby match officials took it on themselves to rid the game of Rugby Union of the tip- or spear tackle once and for all, and they pulled out all the cards in trying to doing so.

We saw four yellows flashed for that, and only once did we agree.

James O'Connor’s dumping of Lwazi Mvovo late in the Sharks game couldn’t have scored more than a measly three on the Umaga-O'Driscoll scale, but we know that that was about as much harm as the former Justin Bieber lookalike is capable of. For intent alone he got his just deserts.

The same cannot be said of the other three incidents.

The rot started in Brisbane on Saturday morning when referee James Leckie thought he saw something spear-like out of the corner of his eye and referred it to his TMO Steve Lesczynski.

What Steve saw was countless replays of this: Reds fullback Jono Lance lifts Grant Hattingh in a tackle and topples him. Gravity starts to pull its trick, but the big Bulls lock immediately stretches out that long left arm of his and comes to rest so soft you’d think it was a mattress advertisement.

Card or not. You decide.

When the Wrap desk’s oldest member got a chance to sit down for breakfast with Sanzar’s referees boss Lyndon Bray earlier this week, he heard that call called “tough”. But it wasn’t tough enough for us not to have an opinion on it.

The way we understand it, you can only be guilty of a tip-tackle if you did all three of the following:

  • You lifted a player into the air.
  • You took him “through the horizontal”, meaning that at the top of the movement you had his hips higher than his shoulders.
  • You failed to bring him to ground safely.
Now, considering the size difference, Lance succeeded spectacularly in ticking the first two boxes on that list on Saturday. But was it right to card him for the fact that it wasn’t him that brought Hattingh down safely? He certainly didn’t drive him into the ground, and given that we’re in a charitable mood, we’re sure that if the man mountain’s arm was shorter he would have taken that extra time to show that he had the ball-runner’s safety top-of-mind when it came to landings.

Marginal? Maybe. But there was nothing marginal about this:

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Please note that video footage is for the website only and is rights restricted, and therefore only available in regions that fall within SuperSport’s broadcast footprint.

What you saw there was not a tip-tackle, it was the shameful sight of a tighthead prop incapable of stepping around a defender or even go through him. If that is card-worthy then the game of rugby has just changed forever.

Struggling to make your way past a 15-man defence? No problem. Just convince your midfield partner to jump over a defender just after you’ve done so yourself. Beating 13 men is so much easier, isn’t it? After all, who wants a contest when you’re the one with ball in hand?

Except, it’s wrong. If Lionel Mapoe was guilty, it is only because he apologised for what had happened. He didn’t lift James Slipper in the tackle, and he couldn’t put him down, because he never had proper hold of him. That is two non-ticks on our list, and therefore no card.

The Wrap’s good friend, Sky New Zealand commentator Tony Johnson, explained it best. That call was only made because the match officials painted themselves into a corner with that earlier marginal call. As if two wrongs make a right.

Worse than that, they started a trend:

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Once again, wrong. Nowhere in any of the footage that we’ve just seen did Cobus Reinach lift Nick Phipps through the horizontal. Nowhere in that clip can you see hips above shoulders.

You’d expect a TMO to know better. He has a direct line to the producer in the broadcast van parked outside and, if needs be, he can stick a ruler to the screen right in front of him to judge what part of the tackled player’s anatomy is highest at any one point.

Oh, but yes. We remember those “what the hell” cries again. TMO Shaun Veldsman didn’t make that call. On-field referee Lourens van der Merwe over-ruled whatever it was the man in the box was about to say. The call was made by a panting referee, constantly interrupted by players, looking at a pixelated big-screen at least 80 metres away from where he stood.

It was brought up at the aforementioned breakfast. “What we encourage is that referees own the moment. The on-field referee has a feel for the moment where the incident happened. With the TMO it becomes a more clinical, factual-based decision, by virtue of the fact that you have an individual making a decision on behalf of the man in the middle,” was Mr Bray’s response.

We’re all for empowerment, but in this case we have to disagree. If it’s the stadium big screen we’re talking about, then it’s not the referee that is empowered.

In this instance the referee only asked for the tip-tackle review because he saw a replay of himself missing a forward pass. Only then, and out of the corner of his eye, did he see a spear-like incident. And whether it was out of embarrassment or because the trend was set already, he decided to act.

The point is, he didn’t ask for a replay. The replay played out because the TV producer had something to show us viewers. But it was the producer who decided what visuals the on-field referee ended up seeing. It was the producer that, unwittingly, got Reinach carded. Fortunately the result was beyond doubt when it happened.

We’ll leave it up to your imaginations how this scenario, if left untouched, could play out in a World Cup final.

Here are our teams of the week:

Note: our weekly teams are selected on the past weekend's action only, so overall season form is not a factor. Players in teams with a bye are then obviously not considered.

Super XV for week six:
15. Gareth Anscombe (Chiefs), 14. Gio Aplon (Stormers), 13. Rene Ranger (Blues), 12. Adam Ashley-Cooper (Waratahs), 11. Digby Ioane (Reds), 10. Aaron Cruden (Chiefs), 9. Will Genia (Reds), 8. Kieran Reid (Crusaders), 7. George Smith (Brumbies), 6. Heinrich Brussow (Cheetahs), 5. Andries Bekker (Stormers), 4. Pieter-Steph du Toit (Sharks), 3. Owen Franks (Crusaders), 2. Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs), 1. Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks)

Bok Barometer for week six
15. Louis Ludick (Sharks), 14. Gio Aplon (Stormers), 13. Paul Jordaan (Sharks), 12. Jean de Villiers (Stormers), 11. Raymond Rhule (Cheetahs), 10. Elton Jantjies (Stormers), 9. Cobus Reinach (Sharks), 8. Ryan Kankowski (Sharks), 7. Dewald Potgieter (Bulls), 6. Heinrich Brussow (Cheetahs), 5. Andries Bekker (Stormers), 4. Pieter-Steph du Toit (Sharks), 3. Frans Malherbe (Stormers), 2. Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs), 1. Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks)

Match of the week:

It was the tournament’s only unbeaten team up against the team that supposedly has its best defence, and normally that would be enough. This week the build-up was epic, though, because former Bok coach Jake White told a bunch of current Boks that they can’t score.

The result was this:

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Try of the week:

We do our talking on the field, said the Boks:

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Congratulations to:

  • Brad Thorn – who became the oldest player ever to take the field in Super Rugby (SR). When he ran out this weekend, he did so at the age of 38 years 47 days. Previously Tana Umaga held the record with 39 less days in those tree-stump legs.
  • Ewen McKenzie – who equalled Robbie Deans’s record of being in charge of a SR team for 120 matches.
  • Chris King – who played in his 100th SR match this weekend.
  • Laurie Weeks and Alifeleti Mafi – who both earned their 50th SR cap.

Quote of the week:

“I would put fuel in my car to get to training and then we’d buy bags of rice and live off that for seven days” – Brumbies fullback Jesse Mogg talks about the tough times before cracking Super Rugby.

Twitter files:

Here is this week's look at what players got up to on Twitter:

While his Kings’ teammates were out sightseeing or shopping, veteran tourist Andries Strauss decided to go do a bit of “damduik” (dam diving). Why? Well, we’re not really sure…and neither is his roommate Steven Sykes, who took the picture .
The latest in our series on the terrors of touring. This is the view Alby Mathewson snapped when he went out for a quick bite.
How to embarrass a teammate 101 – find an old pic of them and send it out on Twitter just before a game. Here is Ben Daley giving us a masterclass.
Nasi Manu used the time off injured to get a bit creative. It'll be a shame to see that cast come off.

Not worth the squeeze

Unfortunately we have to start the week that was on a sad note.

The Varsity Cup has a wonderful motto of “keeping the aggro on the field” at their games in a campaign to help highlight violence against women and children.

It seems at times, though, that fans can’t keep the aggro inside, and let it spill over.

We had the shocking youtube fight scenes at a Kings’ game that did the rounds a few weeks ago and this was followed up by the tragic news of a death of a spectator at Kings Park after Saturday’s Rebels/Sharks game. Durban’s atmosphere is world renowned, and the post-match braais are a special occasion as any rugby fan who has attended them will attest to.

But if incidents like this happen again then these occasions will be spoilt for those real fans who love the game.

So, while nobody has asked us to, we’d like to remind fans who get a bit hot under the collar at games – walk away.

A fight is never worth it and it spoils the occasion.

Jerry canned

Possibly the most bizarre story to come from the past week was the one of former All Black Jerry Collins being arrested for carrying knives in a Japanese shop.

Collins told New Zealand's TV3's Campbell Live he was terrified of being attacked and relieved to have been arrested.

Collins, who had been playing rugby for the Yamaha Jubilo club in Iwata, 40 minutes from Hamamatsu, apparently entered the store and placed two 17cm knives on top of a fish counter, before security staff called the police. It is illegal to carry weapons with blades longer than 15cm without police permission in Japan.

Collins told Campbell Live he was running from a "gang'' that wanted to hurt him and believed the large number of people in the store would prevent him from being attacked.

Brazilian gangs in Japan? That may be pushing it a bit. We suspect there may have been some sake involved.

Tie that Wallaby down

Speaking of drinking a bit too much, one wonders how much more the “bad boys club” of Quade Cooper, Digby Ioane, Kurtley Beale and James O’Bieb…sorry O’Connor have to do before Australian rugby gets fed up with them.

The latest of course was young Mr Beale’s decision to strike his captain Gareth Delve and Cooper Vuna after an argument on the bus after the team was whipped by the Sharks.

Considering their latest “brand-building exercise” one wonders how long it will be before the Wallaby coach Robbie Deans gets fed up with their after-hours exploits, or one of them finally goes over the edge and ends up ruining his career.

Either way, unless there is a change, it’s a “watch this space moment”. Let’s hope we’re wrong of course…

Hair today, gone tommorow

We had to laugh at Bismarck du Plessis in his interview with Ballz Radio when he admitted he was shocked when his sister sent him a pic of her matric dance dress.

“She’s not supposed to be so big. She’s my little sister, she’s supposed to be tiny,” Bismarck remarked, before sharing his rules for dating his sister.

While we can’t repeat this in print, as it is rather impossible physically to do the task to meet Bismarck’s expectations, we shifted out thoughts to the poor bloke who has to come home to face Bismarck and Jannie and win their trust to date their sister.

Just when we were getting worried, Bismarck revealed he has shaved off his beard, and the reason why.

“My mom said I look like Fidel Castro so she made me shave it off,” he said.

We’re glad to see that someone can control the two Bok beasts…

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