Super Rugby

Weekend Review 

Round Fourteen

Chorus: Oy Vey! It is the Referees, again!

Last week it was Egon Seconds. 

This week it is TMO Marius Jonker, TMO Glenn Newman, Referee Glen Jackson, Referee Rasta Rasivhenge, and Referee Nic Berry who are seeing the red laser dot of media gunsights trained on their chests.

They are this week’s set of match officials who are getting a roasting for sub-par performances across the world of rugby. 

Although our focus is firmly on the southern hemisphere and Super Rugby, the truth is that referees across the planet are not keeping pace with the game of rugby itself. Watching the Premiership, Pro 14, Top 14, or Super Rugby has become a frustrating exercise as the referees and their fellow match officials have happily taken centre stage, become the main focus of attention on the field, and are having a direct influence on the outcome of games. 

Even at Test level we see far too many controversial decisions from referees, many of whom are not even full-time officials, but part-timers with a “civilian” job to fall back on.

Bluntly, they all deserve to be under the spotlight! Their performances range from woeful to abysmal, with little in between.

South African referees, especially the younger bunch of up-and-coming referees such as Egon Seconds and Rasta Rasivhenge are being hammered for their apparent bias in favour of South African teams.

It is more than a bit embarrassing!

Last week we spoke of Egon Seconds’ staggering 31 – 3 penalty count in favour of South African teams.

This weekend we watched Rasta Rasivhenge hammer the Highlanders 12 times to the Lions 3 in Johannesburg. Last weekend he carried the whistle during the Crusaders’ demolition of the Bulls, a game which saw the penalty count being 12 – 4 in favour of the Bulls.

Accusations of home-town bias are not inappropriate!

The objectivity of South African referees when handling games featuring South African teams at home against non-South African opponents must be called into question.

A simple glance at the penalty count stats tells a story. 

In 2019, teams from outside South Africa teams have “lost” the penalty count 96-47 when playing in South Africa, against a local team, when the game is handled by a South African referee.

When those same South African sides play at home with a non-South African ref, the count is much more even at 72-66.

One must add that the prime culprits are undoubtedly Egon Seconds and Rasta Rasivhenge – The penalty count under Jaco Peyper is almost 50/50, while AJ Jacobs has only handled one “home” game – when the Chiefs smashed the Bulls at Loftus, and in that game he penalised the Bulls 9 times and the Chiefs just 5 times.

However, the less-than-objective performances of Seconds and Rasivhenge are obscuring the better performances of AJ Jacobs and Jaco Peyper.

This evidence of bias is not restricted to the two South African referees.

In Round 5 of the competition the Sunwolves played the Reds in Tokyo. The referee was the ex-Aussie Sevens captain, and a 15s player with one cap for the Reds, and a Brisbane club rugby stalwart, Damon Murphy. 

Not only was Murphy a home-boy of Brisbane and the Reds, but his brother Dallan played for the Reds for two seasons before heading to England. 

In that R5 game the Reds gained the penalty advantage with 11 penalties against the Sunwolves, and just 4 against the Reds. This handed the Reds their first win of the season. 

If you look back to my review of the games played in Round 12 of 2019’s Super Rugby season, you will find my comments about Murphy’s refereeing the Brumbies vs Blues game. Not only did he penalise the Blues 15 times, and hand them 2 yellow cards, but he also suggested that a try scored by TJ Faiane was not a try, an on-field decision that was overturned by the TMO. The Brumbies sneaked home 26 – 22, and may well have winked their appreciation to their referee.

Across the season Murphy has adopted an aggressive attitude towards visiting teams whilst being much friendlier towards Aussie teams.

Angus Gardner has also come under the spotlight, especially with his penchant for handing out as many cards as he can fit into 80 minutes of rugby.

The same weekend that saw Murphy assisting the Brumbies, Gardner was in charge as the Reds beat the Sunwolves in Brisbane.In that game he waved the yellow card five times and also handed out two red cards. He hammered the Sunwolves with 5 yellows (One of which was converted to red for winger Semisi Masirewa’s second yellow.) Sunwolves coach Tony Brown suggested that Gardner was trying to get noticed in this World Cup year!

When we shift our focus across the Tasman to New Zealand, the accusation of biased refereeing is again evident. Ben O’Keeffe has been accused of favouring hone teams on a number of occasions. 

Quite how Glen Jackson is allowed to referee games featuring the Chiefs is question for ongoing debate. He played 60 games for the Chiefs before he turned to refereeing! 

Brendon Pickerill has had his moments too.

If the truth be spoken, many referees can be accused of home-town bias. A simple examination of the game records and statistics provides ample evidence with the for and against penalty counts telling a story.

Without a doubt, there are the two South African referees who are under the spotlight at the moment. If Sanzaar had the courage of its convictions, both would be suspended, but this is unlikely to happen given the shortage of referees across the hemisphere.

This last weekend saw yet more refereeing controversy as the Crusaders were denied a 75thminute try by TMO Marius Jonker. If the try had stood, it would certainly have sunk Stormers.

There are many that will argue otherwise, but my own view of his call was that it was a 50/50 decision.  The debate on direction if hands is spurious, as the hands could be “facing backwards” and still throw a clear forward pass, so the issue has to revolve around the line of flight immediately after the pass, before momentum kicks in, and I thought it was either flat or forward.  

Monday Morning 08h15: Hindsight is perfect science: I have now had the opportunity to review the forward pass incident in super slow motion as well as in real time, and have probably played the moment twenty or more times. The pass was NOT forward.

Whatever the reality, the real issue is that the match officials were, again, under the spotlight.

Over in New Zealand the Blues win over the Chiefs also produced its share of controversy, as some questionable decisions by referee Glen Jackson saw 

Blues prop Ofa Tuungafasi awarded a try in the second half, with the Chiefs’ cries for a knock on in the grounding going unheard, with no referral to TMO Glenn Newman, while Chiefs flanker Pita Gus Sowakula had a late try awarded, then inexplicably overturned by the same Glenn Newman.

Newman is no stranger to controversy, he was heavy slated after denying Gareth Anscombe a try when Wales played England back in February 2018. A decision that was clearly incorrect, with World Rugby admitting as much. 

This is a problem that will continue to resurface throughout the game unless Sanzaar take action.

Sanzaar can easily eliminate the problem by ensuring neutral refs are employed for fixtures between non-conference teams, whilst also ensuring that ex-players do not referee their old teams.

Come on Sanzaar, this is not rocket science! You are getting it wrong. 

Some Observations From The Weekend

Huh?

When last did all five the New Zealand conference teams play on a weekend, and only record one win?

Think carefully, and tell me if you can recall such a weekend, ever!

The Blues were the only victorious New Zealand team in Super Rugby over the weekend.

A weekend where all five of the Kiwi teams were in action. 

And, yes, the Blues were playing in the sole local derby game, against their perennial bogey team, the Chiefs, whom they had not beaten in their last 15 match-ups. 

That was the only win of the weekend for a New Zealand team, with the Chiefs, the Hurricanes, and the Highlanders all losing, while the Crusaders drew with the Stormers..

Which brings me to the second part of the “Huh?”

This was an undefeated weekend for all the South African conference teams! 

Now when last did that happen?

The Jaguares, the Bulls, and the Lions all won their games, while the Stormers drew.

The Sharks had a bye, so they could not do any damage to a successful South African weekend.

When the Faithful Pitch

Newlands was a revelation. After 13 weeks of Super Rugby marked by echoingly empty stadiums across the entire competition, somehow the Newlands faithful pitched up for their team’s game against the Crusaders.

It says much for those fans, coming to a game where their team was certainly the underdog and tipped to lose.

The atmosphere at Newlands was special, contributing to the intensity and focus as both teams lived up to the occasion.

This is what Super Rugby should be like, every weekend.

Taking A Bit of Flak.

Hurricanes and All Blacks fullback, the 22-year old Jordie Barrett has received a lot of flak on social media after a silly mistake during his team’s loss to the Jaguares in Wellington on Friday. Jordie started the game superbly, and his scything run through the heart of the Jaguares defence set up Vaea Fifita’s try in the opening minute of the match.

Ten minutes later the pendulum had swung and he made a huge mistake as he batted the ball away from the hands of a diving Jaguare in the in-goal area. If the ball had gone just a meter or so, there would be no problem and he would be praised for some heroic defence. 

Unfortunately he batted the ball too hard. It went dead in goal. That is illegal! And he saw a yellow card, while the Jaguares were awarded a penalty try for his efforts!

Back in September 2018 Barrett was also criticised for a silly mistake when, playing for the All Blacks against the Springboks in Wellington, he decided to take a quick thrown in from touch deep inside his own half, only to throw the ball to nobody, for a gleeful Willie le Roux to gather and score.

The hammering that Jordie is taking on social media is unfair. 

Consider this: This youngster is just 22 years old! At that age few rugby players have made the impact that he has made since he stepped up from junior rugby. Yes, he has much to learn, and with experience will come the street-smarts that will guide him on the field later in his career.

Watch out for Jordie, we will be seeing a lot more of him.

The Barrett Family.

Thinking about Jordie Barrett and his yellow card incident, gave rise to the thought that this family must be one of the most talented sporting families in all of history.

Dad, Kevin “Smiley” Barrett, was a member of the Hurricanes squad back in 1997, having been called up as injury cover. He went onto the field as a substitute in two matches towards the end of the season, and then started against the Brumbies (as a flanker) in the last round robin match, and then again against them the following week in the team’s first semi-final.

He stayed in the squad through 1998, playing lock and starting in the first eight rounds and making another three appearances off the bench. He returned to his club, Taranaki, for 1999, his final year as a player, having represented the club in 167 matches and scoring 99 points.

Mum, Robyn Barrett, was known as a fast runner and was a talented basketball and netball player.

With those genetics, any sprouts Barrett couple were likely to have were going to be fairly good at sports.

Just how good is just a little scary.

Mum and Dad Barrett were no slouch in producing sprouts. Eight of them!

Kane, Beauden, Scott, Jordie, and Blake are the boys, while Zara, Ella, and Jenna represent the female side of the family.

Kane Barrett was the first of the sprouts to play serious rugby. He made the New Zealand schools team in 2007 and 2008, and then went on to play for Taranaki from 2010 to 2014. He was a member of the Blues squad in 2013 and 2014, but only played 3 Super Rugby games before concussion ended his career. He is still only 29 years old.

The story of the next three brothers is well known. First Beauden, then Scott, and finally Jordie were all selected for the All Blacks and eventually made history when the three of them played together for their country on the 20thJune 2018 against France. The first family to have three brothers in a starting lineup for New Zealand. 

We are told that Blake Barrett also plays a mean game of rugby, and that he is a pretty decent loose forward on the Taranaki club scene.

I cannot find any record of the three sisters playing rugby, although I have no doubt that they are involved in some way or another.

New Zealand Conference

I think we can safely say that the Chiefs’ challenge for a playoff spot in 2019 is done and dusted. Thirteen games, with just 4 wins, 7 losses and 2 drawn games gives them just 23 log points, and a negative points difference of -84.

With equal safety, we can say that the Crusaders and the Hurricanes are likely to finish 1stand 2nd in the conference. Both have played 13 and won 9, but the Crusaders are ahead thanks to 3 drawn games and just 1 loss, while the ‘Canes have 3 lost games and 1 draw. They are on 49 and 40 points respectively, with the Crusaders also having 7 bonus points and the ‘Canes just 2.

Between the top two and the bottom of the log we find the Highlanders and the Blues. The Highlanders have played 13, won 5, drawn 2, and lost 6, for 29 points, while the Blues have a game in hand, having played 12, won 5, but losing 7 to sit on 26 points. They have gathered 4 losing bonus points which helps their overall points somewhat.

At the moment the Highlanders occupy the 8thposition on the overall log, level on points with the Sharks and the Brumbies, but dropping to the 8thposition due to an inferior points difference. If they can stay in 8th, they will become the third New Zealand team in the playoffs. (If Sanzaar were a logical and fair world, the Brumbies, also on 29 points, would be in 8thposition as their points difference is the worst of the three together on 29 points. Artificially, they sit in third on the log due to their Australian heritage.

Australian Conference

When we turn to the Aussie conference we can only say with certainty that the Sunwolves will not be challenging for the top spot and a quarterfinal berth.

The other four teams are all still in it to win it.

The table topping Brumbies are on 29 and thus have the home quarterfinal berth if the regular season were to end today.

However, only six points separate the four Australian teams, with four rounds of the regular season still to be played. 

Based on their current log positions, it is only the team that tops the Aussie conference that is likely to feature in the playoffs. At the moment the Brumbies have the qualifying position, artificially placing them third on the overall log, although reality shows that they are actually 8thbehind the Highlanders.

The Rebels sit in 9thspot with 28 points, with the Waratahs 10thon 26, followed by the Reds on 23, and the Sunwolves trailing the entire field on 12.

The weekend’s win moved the Waratahs ahead of the Reds and within three points of top spot in the conference but they do have a difficult couple of weeks ahead. They have to host the Jaguares next week, then they play the Rebels and the Brumbies, before having to head to Dunedin to face the Highlanders.  None of those games are easy ones for the 2019 ‘Tahs.

The Reds, also still in with a shout, are away to the Chiefs, then at home to the Jaguares and the Blues, before again heading away from Brisbane for their last fixture against the Brumbies. They might fancy their chances against the Chiefs, and even the Brumbies, but the Jaguares and Blues look a difficult challenge.

South Africa Conference

The South African conference remains wide open, although the Stormers do lag the rest of the field slightly. The Bulls and the Jaguares both have 32 points, and both have played 12, won 7 and lost 5. The Bulls top the conference log simply by having an 11 point advantage in their points difference. The Stormers are last in the conference, on 26 points.

There are still only 6 points between the top and the bottom of the log!

Just to illustrate the closeness of it all, a week ago the Sharks topped the log on 29 points, now they are back down in 4thposition! Wins by the Lions, Jaguares and Bulls knocked the Sharks off their pedestal.

The last four fixtures of each team’s Super Rugby season are going to be absolutely crucial to see who can win the conference and earn that home quarter-final. If things go the way of all the teams (with a healthy dose of luck thrown in) it is even possible for all five the South African teams to qualify for quarterfinal berths, one for topping the conference and earning the right to host the home game, with the other four earning places as wild cards. 

The Sharks have two home games and two away games left. One away game includes a trip to Argentina, the other a trip to Cape Town to face the Stormers. One home game is against the Lions, the other against the Hurricanes. Niggly fixtures, one and all.

The Stormers have three home games and one away game. They play the Highlanders, the Sunwolves, and the Sharks in Cape Town, with a visit to the Lions as their away fixture.

The Lions have got the Stormers, and the Hurricanes at home, while their  two away games include the Sharks and the Bulls. 

The Jaguares have three away. (Remember, though, they won four away games on the trot last year, and have started this tour by knocking over the Hurricanes!) The Waratahs, and the Reds lie ahead in the next three weeks, before hosting the Sharks and the Sunwolves back in Argentina.

The Argentineans are looking like possible conference winners with a home quarterfinal in their sights!

The Bulls move on with their Australasian tour this weekend, to play the Brumbies, the across to New Zealand to face the Blues, and the Highlanders before returning home to host the Lions in their last regular season fixture. Not the most difficult of away fixtures, but………….. this is the Bulls……….

And still, nobody can predict where the SA Conference is going. 

Some Players Get A Mention:

Malcolm Marx. Every South African fan is hoping, praying, crossing fingers, holding thumbs, and holding their breath that this fellow stays fit and healthy  through to the end of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.  Marx has been impressive in recent weeks, and continues to improve and dominate with his powerful play. This weekend he made 14 carries for a massive 96 meters, busting through 2 tackles and making a good linebreak too. He won a crucial turnover, made 8 tackles without missing any, and lead his side from the front, as his captaincy skills grow with each start. Yet another impressive outing by a man who is surely one of the top two or three hookers in world rugby, if not the very best.

Pieter-Steph du Toit. Wow! 13 tackles, 3 rated a hugely dominant. 6 lineouts won, another lineout stolen, 10 carries of the ball for 33 meters in a game of inches. If we could get hold of the telemetry box sewn into the back of his jersey we would likely find that he covered more meters of the field than anyone else, including the scrumhalves. It was game where his presence dominated the loose, dominated the collisions, and dominated space. His two turnovers were superb. Is there a better blindside flanker in world rugby? I doubt it.

Kwagga Smith.Continues to impress with his coverage of the field. 10 carries for 88 meters, 2 linebreaks and 7 tackles are just the numbers and do not fully illustrate the nuisance value that he brings to the game. His pace around the field adds a dimension of worry to every opponent’s time on the ball.

And that is it, in a weekend where we saw a number of tight games, very few individuals stood up to be counted.

The Weekend’s Games

 

Friday 17thMay

Hurricanes 20 – 28 Jaguares

The Hurricanes were perhaps just a little complacent as they took on the Jaguares. When they left Beauden Barrett out so that he could have his second All Black rest week, they seemed to suggest that the Jaguares were not the most difficult team they would face in 2019.

That was a mistake.

The Hurricanes got an early try but that was the only time in the game that they were in front. The Jaguares turned on the pressure, and the Hurricanes made the mistakes that the Jaguares were hoping for.  The 8-point spread did not reflect the reality of the game, the ‘Canes scored after the full-time siren to give the scoreboard a measure of respectability. 

Rebels 17 – 32 Bulls

A dominant performance by a Bulls side that seemed to ooze confidence. The Rebels made a fist of it, with plenty of possession, but the Bulls defences did not crack. The Rebels also won twice as many rucks as the Bulls, but that is  really a factor of the number of times they went to ground with the ball in their hands.  The Bulls managed 21 clean breaks to 15, which is illustrative of the difference between the two sides. With just 42% of the possession and 39% of the territorial advantage, the Bulls broke the Rebels defences when it counted, and held firm when the Rebels battered themselves silly against a wall.

There was a comical moment in the build-up to the Bulls’ fourth try.

 Embrose Papier looked to pass the ball to the backs. The wily old Will Genia had seen his intention and positioned himself to cut the angle and make the pass as difficult as possible. No problem for Embrose Papier, he simply passed the ball through Genia’s legs! 

The result was a try for Rosko Specman in the left-hand corner as the Bulls completed their first win outside of South Africa since 2016 in style.        

Saturday 18thMay

 

Blues 23 – 8 Chiefs

In the first quarter it looked as if the Blues were intent on self-destruction as they insisted on giving away possession and field position, allowing the Chiefs to take the ball the length of the field time and again.   The Chiefs, however, were unable to make much of those opportunities, and some solid Blues defence proved the key as they denied the Chiefs several opportunities. 

Somewhere, a measure of calm seemed to set in, and the Blues started to play with focus and intent as they drained the competitive edge from the Chiefs They then marshalled their firepower up front to drain the Chiefs’ resources and forced them into error after error.

A dominant scrum was at the root of the Blues win.  

Reds 32 – 40 Waratahs

The Reds will rue the off-night their flyhalf Bryce Hegarty had with his boot. They scored 6 tries to four, but Hegarty could only goal one of those tries, and that was the 8 point difference between the two teams!

I guess the ‘Tahs will consider this as something of a triumph after all the distractions of the Folau affair, followed by the Tolu Latu affair. 

The Waratahs might celebrate a win, but will not be celebrating the way they won. The Reds were only beaten by three late penalty goals landed by Bernard Foley.

It was probably the worst game of rugby of the weekend.

Lions 38 – 29 Highlanders

Rasta Rasivhenge’s 12-3 penalty count helped the Lions to take the spoils and prevent the Highlanders from taking a losing bonus point from the game. 
The Highlanders worked hard and tried manfully to finish strongly, but the heaving chests told of the effects of the thin Highveld air. Both sides scored five tries so the result was up to the goal-kicking of Lions’ Elton Jantjies to make the difference. There was still only two points in it with five minutes to play but the Lions made it safe on the final hooter with their last try.

Another game of tit-for-tat rugby by the Lions…. You score, we score, you score, we score………….

This was no great game of rugby. 

Malcolm Marx and Kwagga Smith enhanced their reputations, almost everyone else sank into the mire.

Stormers 19 – 19 Crusaders

Okay, so there was a contentious forward pass ruling that had a direct impact on the outcome of the game, but that is not what this game should be remembered for.

This game was a titanic struggle between two teams that played with almost Test-match focus and intensity.

The Stormers started with an almost laser like intensity, and had the Crusaders fighting to stay in the game for the first 20 minutes. Slowly, the huge experience and the quality of the Crusaders resources found their way back into the game, until they started to rattle the Stormers resolve just a little.

Somehow the Stormers found another gear and worked their way back into the game, never giving up.

The game became one of sheer attrition as both teams worked to minimise errors and maintain advantages when they had been earned. 

The game could have gone either way in the final minutes, with the forward pass ruling scrubbing off a potential match winner for the Crusaders, before a desperate fumble by Damian Willemse as he attempted to gather the kicked ball to go over for the score deprived the Stormers of a win that nobody had thought possible in the run-up to the game.

Some are criticising Siya Kolisi’s decision to kick for goal and secure the draw with the final play of the game. Those critics wanted the death-or-glory moment of a kick to the corner and a lineout. You do that sort of thing in sudden-death playoffs, not in league fixtures where log points are important.

I would suggest that Kolisi’s decision was a strategic one, and 100% correct. The points earned for the draw may well be the difference between a play-off slot and a season with nothing to show for it.

The 19-all draw was perhaps a fair reflection of the game.

A packed Newlands gave the game a special flavour.