Super Rugby 2017

Semifinals Post Mortem

It was semi-final time in Christchurch, yet just 15 000 spectators pitched up to watch the game as the Crusaders knocked out the Chiefs. Although the AMI stadium appeared fairly full, it has a capacity of just 20 000, and one would have expected a semi-final to fill all those seats. It was a disappointing turnout for the last game of the 2017 Super season to be played in New Zealand.

Over in Johannesburg Ellis Park seated 27 908 spectators for the Lions/Hurricanes semi-final, although stadium management said that 35 000 tickets had been sold, suggesting that 7 000 spectators had bought a ticket but did not bother to turn up for the game. Ellis Park can seat as many as 63 000 as it did for the 1995 World Cup final, though 60 000 is usually given as the stadium’s capacity.

In both cases, the lack of spectators at one of the biggest games of the season drives home the point that rugby is in serious trouble as a spectator sport in the southern hemisphere.

I also spent some time watching some of the Currie Cup games broadcast on South African television, and it again struck home how poor the crowds are at what used to be the world’s premier domestic rugby competition.

Something needs to be done to reinvent the game and bring back the spectators!

The Semifinals:

Once again, the Referees and their fellow Match Officials are under the spotlight. The intervention of the TMO to deny Tim Nanai-Williams what looked like a legitimate try at a time when the Chiefs were on a roll might well have had a game-changing influence. If the Chiefs had scored, converted, and gone into half time ahead of the Crusaders the whole game might have ended differently.

The yellow card given to Beauden Barrett for denying Ruan Combrinck the opportunity to push the ball back to the Lions’ side of a ruck has attracted the most media comment this week.

In the 52nd minute, Barrett tackled Combrinck, with both going to ground. Barrett was, quite correctly, pulling himself out of the tackle situation, on the ground, as Combrinck tried to push the ball back to his side. Barrett’s legs made contact with the ball, pulling the ball away from Combrinck and towards Ardie Savea. Savea picked the ball up and the whistle sounded.

Referee Jaco Peyper immediately stopped the game, awarded a penalty and then sent Beauden Barrett to the sin bin.

Peyper spoke to Dane Coles, the Hurricanes’ captain, saying: “It’s a clear line-break. Unfortunately the player is still there. Whatever influence he had, I still have to penalise him.”

Coles said: “But it’s not a yellow card.”

In the post-game panel discussion Nick Mallett suggested that the card was perhaps harsh, suggesting that it was an unintentional interference by Barrett and thus only worthy of a penalty.. He went on to say that if Barrett had intentionally played the ball, then it would have been a card.

Mallett is thus calling on the referee to make a decision about Barrett’s state of mind in the instant that the transgression occurred.

I have to agree with Paul Dobson who said that the referee had the clearest view, in real-time, and had to make an instant decision, in real-time!

He did not have slow-motion replays, he was not sitting down watching the game in the comfort of a lounge chair. He did not have the time to think about the decision, nor anyone to debate and discuss the matter. He had to make a decision right there and then.

Let’s look at the Law:

Law 16 DEFINITIONS

A ruck is a phase of play where one or more players from each team, who are on their feet, in physical contact, close around the ball on the ground.

Law 16.4 (b) Players must not handle the ball in a ruck except after a tackle if they are on their feet and have their hands on the ball before the ruck is formed.
Sanction: Penalty kick

The Law does not make any differentiation between intentional and accidental.

What Peyper saw was Barrett backing out of the tackle and at the same time moving the ball back in his side’s favour, leading to a turnover.

This happened after a break that had taken the Lions very close to the Hurricanes’ try-line, where quick ball could well have produced a try.

Peyper is required to apply the Law as it is written and in terms of what he sees on the field of play. He clearly believed that Barrett’s infringement warranted a yellow card.

I have no problem with the yellow card, even if it might be questioned with the benefit of Slo-Mo replays and a remote control to rewind the play over and over again. It was an instant decision, within the ambit of the Law, and thus correct.

The other brief moment of contention involving the Match Officials was when Rasta Rashivenge told Peyper that he could award Malcolm Marx’s try as he had seen clear grounding of the ball. Some might suggest that the TMO should have been consulted, and the replays are certainly inconclusive.

Yet Rashivenge was absolutely certain that he had seen the grounding. And he made a call in the full knowledge that there would be replays ad infinitum once the try was awarded and also when the game was over. He would know that a false call would be seen and that he would be censured for it. He made the call on what he saw, and that is the way every referee should manage a game. Well done Rasta!

Whilst I have no doubt that neither Glen Newman, the TMO in the Crusaders/Chiefs game, nor Jaco Peyper and Rasta Rashivenge were in any way biased against one or another of the teams in the games they were officiating in, this is an issue that media hacks will exploit and keep picking at until SANZAAR does something about it.

Logic tells us that Sanzaar simply must appoint neutral officials for the Super Rugby playoffs.

They must certainly have a neutral squad of officials for the final between the Lions and Crusaders at Ellis Park. (I am sure Nigel Owens will be available, but Angus Gardiner will do a good job too!)

Match reviews:

Crusaders vs Chiefs

The Crusaders secured a 12th Super Rugby final appearance when they beat the Chiefs 27-13 in a clinical performance in Christchurch.

Despite scoring four tries – through Bryn Hall, Israel Dagg and Seta Tamanivalu (2) – it was the Saders’ defence that shut down the Chiefs attacking game time and time again. The Crusaders made 211 tackles, missing just 30, for a tackle success rate of 89%. In contrast the Chiefs were only called on to make 79 tackles, though they missed 16 for an 84% success rate.

14 of the Crusaders tackles were dominant, with 7 tackles resulting in clear turnover.

The Chiefs can hold their heads high as they made all the running and played all the rugby on the day, only to be denied by rock solid Crusaders’ defence. The Chiefs carried the ball 171 times, making 1005 meters in the process. The Crusaders, in contrast, carried the ball just 71 times and made 488 meters with the ball in hand. The Chiefs made 9 line breaks and 10 tackle breaks, but just could not get the ball over the line.

In fact, based purely on the attacking stats from the game it is the Chiefs who should be heading to Johannesburg to play the Lions, and not the Crusaders!

185 passes to just 86, 134 rucks won to just 48, all those meters carrying the ball, all those line breaks and tackle breaks.

The Chiefs had 70 percent of the ball in the first-half and were hugely unlucky not to be leading when the halftime hooter sounded. The game ended with the Chiefs having had 62% of the possession and 59% territorial advantage, yet it was the Crusaders who won the game.

Some other stats tell us why…

The Chiefs made a horrendous 43 handling errors, while the Crusaders were far better at protecting possession, making just 16 handling errors on the day. The Crusaders stole two of the Chiefs’ lineout balls too.

The big difference between the two sides was in the accuracy of their game. The Chiefs were exciting, innovative, and probing all the time, but they squandered possession through far too many silly errors, and you cannot do that against a side as accurate and uncompromising as the Crusaders.

The Crusaders didn’t have any ball in the opening 10 minutes yet strong, accurate tackling and superb defensive organisation kept the Chiefs out.

In the 14th minute James Lowe somehow escaped a yellow card as he rushed up in an offside position to smother a Crusaders attack. Richie Mo’unga kicked the penalty. 3 – 0.

Four minutes later Bryn Hall rounded off a great attack down the eft by Dagg, Todd and Crotty, with Mo’unga again converting. 10 – 0.

The next moment came when Tim Nanai-Williams appeared to all and sundry to have scored, only for the TMO, Glenn Newman, to rule that he had lost the ball. I did not agree with his call at the time, and watching a Slo-Mo replay again this morning, I still do not agree. A converted try at this stage of the game might have changed the entire flow of the game as the Chiefs had all the ball and all the territory at the time.

Fortunately for the Chiefs they did get points on the board in the 26th minute when McKenzie converted an offside penalty, and then another one to make it 10-6 at the end of a thrilling half. If the TMO had not ruled against Nanai-Williams’ try, the score could have been 13 – 10 to the Chiefs!

The Crusaders showed their clinical edge in the 49th minute as loose ball was hacked into the Chiefs 22 before Aaron Cruden’s poor pass led to Lowe being under all sorts of pressure as he attempted a relieving kick. He was tackled by Mo’unga as he set to kick the ball, and the ball bounced back off Mo’unga. Israel Dagg collected the ball to make it 15-6.

The Crusaders suddenly seemed to come to life and the next ten minutes saw them exert immense pressure on the Chiefs. In the 54th minute it was another loose pass by Cruden that resulted in the Crusaders taking the ball into the Chiefs’ half. In the 56th minute Tamanivalu was prevented from scoring by Tawera Kerr-Barlow who stopped the ball from being grounded. Moments later, from the resultant scrum, the ball went to Mo’unga and out to Tamanivalu again, This time there was no doubt as the try was scored. Mo’unga converted to take the score out to 22-6.

The Chiefs launched attack after attack, but their ball carriers were smashed back by a determined Crusaders defence. In the 71st minute the Chiefs conceded a penalty within kicking distance, but Whitelock opted for the corner kick, probably with the intention of staying in the Chiefs half of the field as much as possible.

The resultant lineout was won by the Crusaders, Drummond got the ball to Tamanivalu who crossed on the right touchline to kill of any Chiefs’ hopes of winning the game.

But credit to the Chiefs, they kept at it and eventually crossed the goal line through Brodie Retallick after a slick break from Anton Lienert-Brown.

A great game of rugby and a fine result as it set up the Crusaders for a final they richly deserved.

The scorers:

For Crusaders:

Tries: Hall, Dagg, Tamanivalu 2
Cons: Mo’unga 2
Pen: Mo’unga

For Chiefs:

Try: Retallick
Con: McKenzie
Pens: McKenzie 2

Lions vs Hurricanes

It is not often that the Hurricanes are outscored by another team, yet the Lions managed 6 tries to the Canes’ 4 as the home team recovered from being 22 – 3 down after just 38 minutes, to beat the Hurricanes 44-29 and secure a home final against the Crusaders.

As the halftime hooter sounded there were a lot of very worried South African and Lions’ supporters. Were the Lions suffering from the same undercooked malaise that sank the Stormers in 2016? The lack of exposure to the pace and intensity of the New Zealand franchises certainly seemed to be hurting the Lions. 22 – 3 down after 38 minutes and a score just on half time to bring the score back a little to 22 – 10 was worrying.

Yet, a close analysis of that first half shows that the Hurricanes were benefiting from Lions mistakes!

A loose pass by Elton Jantjies in the 7th minute saw TJ Perenara pounce on the ball, kick ahead, chase, and score. Barrett Junior missed the conversion.

Just three minutes later the Lions are again at fault. A penalty gave the Canes a lineout close in, a set move gave the ball to Beauden Barrett who cut the line and handed it on to Wes Goosen for a try. Barrett Junior converts this one and suddenly it is 12 – 3.

Another penalty in the 19th minute and another Barrett conversion, 15 – 3.

24th minute, another penalty for a silly deliberate knock down by Harold Vorster.

In the 30th minute it is another collection of loose passes, eventually Cronje fumbles, Ardie Savea pounces on the mistake and is over for the try. 22 – 3.

Every single score by the Canes had come from a Lions’ mistake!

Then the fightback started.

A powerful carry by Jacques van Rooyen gave then a try in the 38th minute and the halftime score of 22 – 10.

The second half was all about the Lions. Tries by Ross Cronje, Malcolm Marx, Harold Vorster, Elton Jantjies and Kwagga Smith saw them completely dominate and run out deserved winners.

Yes, the yellow card to Beauden Barrett did have an impact, an easy three-pointer from the penalty and a converted try while the All Black was off the field added 10 points during the period while the Lions enjoyed the one-man numerical advantage.

Some of the New Zealand media commentators are also questioning whether Marx’s try in the 52 minute should not have been referred to the TMO, yet Assistant Referee Rasta Rashivenge was adamant that he saw the grounding and that there was no need for a TMO referral. Slo-Mo replays of the incident are inconclusive, and Rashivenge was in the ideal position to see the score, so I have no doubt that it was a correct call.

The Lions have certainly shown that they can compete with the best of New Zealand’s Super Rugby outfits. Add the Stormers display against the Chiefs a week ago, and it is evident that South African rugby is moving ahead and becoming capable of competing with the New Zealand franchises in Super Rugby.

If we take a quick look at the stats from this semi-final we see that the Lions dominated territory by 56% to 44%, but that they had most of the possession too, 63% to 37%.

The Lions also made all the running, especially in the second half. They carried the ball a total of 134 times, making 905 meters in the process. The Hurricanes, used to topping the carrying and meters charts, made just 71 carries and 593 meters with the ball in hand.

Due to those first 38 minutes when the Lions were blown off the park by the pace of the Hurricanes game, the Canes managed 5 linebreaks to the Lions 4, and 13 tackle-breaks to the Lions’ 10.

Once the Lions had eliminated their first half jitters, it was the Hurricanes handling that came under the spotlight. They made 32 handling errors while the Lions only made 18, most of them in that horrid first 20 minutes!

The Lions strung together 133 good passes, the Canes just 90. The Lions beat the Hurricanes on the ground too, winning 101 rucks and 12 turnovers to the 34 rucks and 8 turnovers by the visitors. The maul count went 7 – 0 to the Lions.

In almost every aspect of the game, the Lions were the better side., and that is reflected by the score.

We look forward to an immense final.

The scorers:

For Lions:

Tries: Van Rooyan, Cronje, Marx, Vorster, Jantjies, Smith
Cons: Jantjies 4
Pens: Jantjies 2

For Hurricanes:

Tries: Perenara, Goosen, A Savea, Laumape
Cons: J Barrett 2, B Barrett
Pen: J Barrett
Yellow Card: B Barrett