Well, that certainly didn’t go the way I’d’ve liked it to go, or how I expected it to go. But there we are, that’s sport for you. We all have our teams that we support and while we expect and hope they always win, it’s never to be. Now that the game has settled a bit, and I’ve come to terms with the emotion of the day, it’s time take a more open view of the game. I won’t carry on too much as Nutta’s excellent review here outlines the game itself. What I will look at is some of the things that I felt were an issue in not only this game, but rugby generally with the way the laws are applied and what World Rugby is doing.
First though, congratulations to South Africa, they played a very hard physical game with some outstanding defence and pressure that upset the All Blacks and caused a lot of mistakes. They are worthy holders of the RWC trophy, and we can all aspire for our teams to be able to rise to the same level.
The game itself was a great tussle with some fantastic defence and attack from both sides. I thought the All Blacks let the moment get to them a bit as, like early in the Irish game, they were making some poor decisions and passes were wayward without the accuracy that we normally see. There were a number of players who made some uncharacteristic mistakes and I just wonder if they put too much into this being Foster’s last game as coach. Certainly, the sight of Aaron Smith firing passes to no one and Will Jordan not catching kicks was a rare one in this tournament and I can only put it down to the pressure of the final.
The Boks pressure was immense, they’re probably the best in the world at the moment with their aggressive defence that knocks the opposition off their game, and this certainly happened with the ABs in this match. However, the ABs were also very physical and their defence was generally on top of the game and preventing the Boks from scoring tries.
Now a lot of people are bemoaning the lack of running rugby; however, I found this game fascinating with both teams extremely physical in both attack and defence and some huge hits from both sides. In my mind the Boks won this game through two areas. Firstly, when they received a penalty, they kicked for goal, and they got the points. Secondly, they adapted to Wayne Barnes on the day quickly seeing how he was applying, and not applying the laws, and they reacted to this better. The number of times we saw Retallick or Barrett complaining about the Boks sealing off in the tackle, and yet not doing it themselves was certainly an eye opener for me. To be fair I thought Barnes wasn’t at his best in this area and he certainly gave the attacking team a lot more leeway than we’d seen previously in this cup. However, that’s rugby and it’s up to the teams and captains to adapt to this. The Boks just did it better.
A huge defining moment in this game was the RC to Cane. Now, from a purely technical point of view the law was applied correctly. The framework for this has been in place for some 5 years and the officials followed it to the letter. Head contact – yes! Foul play – yes because the tackler was upright. Degree of danger – medium to high so a YC or RC. They then followed the process where Cane was given a YC and the bunker – not the TMO – would then review it with all the footage to determine if there was any mitigation and whether it would remain a TC or be upgraded to RC. I like this process, it stops the endless on field reviews that take forever and just slow the game down. It also gives the bunker time to review it from a lot more angles than any of us watching or the onfield officials will see and so “should” get a more accurate result. However, it is also subject to the bias and experience of the official and so that may not always occur. Personally, I thought the RC was a bit harsh. I felt that the contact was actually initiated by Kriel and I also didn’t think there was a high degree of danger. However, the bunker saw it differently and so the red card was given.
For me the red card to Sam Cane was the losing of the game. With a single point separating them I truly believe that had Cane stayed on the ABs would’ve won. I know the Boks also had to play with 14 players twice, but it was later in the game when the NZ forwards had spent the majority of the game covering for the loss and were physically exhausted and so the impact wasn’t as much. Maybe a question on the timing of the reserves coming on is relevant here. The other area where NZ lost the game was in their kicking. 2 missed kicks at goal, either one of which would have won the game for them. But, in addition to this, there were a number of times where a kick could have been on, but Savea chose to kick for the corner. In such a tight game I think points are everything and we should’ve taken the shot. Apart from anything else it would’ve given our tired forwards a rest.
And so, the Boks get their 4th RWC title, and the ABs have another 4 years of reviewing what happened and thinking “What if?” Mind you they aren’t alone there and after the previous two or three years getting to the final of this RWC was certainly an achievement that I wasn’t expecting – despite the comments I’d been making throughout the tournament. Personally, I’m extremely proud of the players and management and seeing them give it their absolute best was certainly a great sight. They can all be immensely proud of what they achieved losing by only one point in that game.
I have no problem with Barnes and the ARs in this game. As I mentioned previously, I thought Barnes favoured the attacking team too much at times and they were given a lot of leeway that I thought prevented the contest for the ball. This is an issue for me because it is the legal contest for the ball that makes rugby so good and when a team is prevented from doing that it does make the game harder to watch. However, they were consistent, and it wasn’t their fault that the ABs didn’t adapt to that during the game.
The real issue I had, like a lot of people from some of the comments I have read, is the way the TMO inserted himself into the game. The problem with the TMO doing this is that he/she is trying to make an imperfect game perfect, and they’ll never get it right anyway. Sure, the TMO got a couple of things the onfield officials missed, which led to Smith’s try being disallowed among others. However, they also missed a lot, like the elbow into Cane’s face that could/should have been a YC to Etzebeth. Rugby is a hugely dynamic game with a lot of things happening all the time and at speed. The nature of the game where both teams continue to contest for the ball after a tackle has been made brings a huge amount of conflict at every one of these contests. The laws are specifically designed to allow for this contest and because there is so much happening the application of the laws is hugely subjective. A referee will make a judgement on what he/she sees, and this will depend on where they’re standing at the time. Stand on one side of a ruck, and you see one thing, stand on the other side of the ruck and you get a different picture. When you also bring in the tactical application of the laws so that you only adjudicate on those that are having a material effect on the play at the time, it’s a hugely complicated affair with many mistakes made by all parties, players and officials.
The other thing is that with everything going on, there isn’t actually one ruling that will decide a game of rugby. Sure, a penalty kick out in front when you are two points behind might seem to decide the match; however, during the game there have been multiple decisions by both players and officials that have got the game to this point. If any of those other decisions had been different, then the score at the time of that penalty might also have been different. Because of the dynamic nature of the game any move to try and bring it to where there’ll be perfect officiating is doomed to failure. The expansion of the TMO from try scoring to the plays before the try, to anywhere on the field has been an absolute disaster that is turning fans off and making the game less of a spectacle and creating more issues than it ever hoped to resolve. As we saw on Saturday, even the TMO missed a couple of pretty blatant events and so despite being in front of so many screens he actually did little to make the game better for either the players or the supporters.
I’d like to see the duties of the TMO go back to where they originally started. He adjudicates on whether a try has been scored or not and he picks up any deliberate foul play events only, none of this high tackle stuff. If it’s not enough of an event for the on-field officials to notice it, then it can wait until after the match and the citing official can look at it. I don’t like the idea of going back 1, 2 or more phases for two reasons. Firstly, there’s nothing in the laws about this and so a phase is open to interpretation by the officials, and they’ll all be different. And secondly, going back from the scoring moment is what got us where we are now. If the referee and ARs miss something leading into the try, then that’s just how it goes. Live with it, move on and just play the game.
Of course, with social media being what it is and people like Erasmus making videos and deliberately showing them to the world (I personally refuse to believe that wasn’t deliberate and I don’t care what he says) this does open up the door for abuse of the officials. But you know what?, nothing changes. It’s happening now; Barnes was receiving death threats during the game in that final, so we’re never going to stop the idiots of this world abusing the officials. Of course, we also have to accept that mistakes will happen, and some of them will happen to our side, so we have to accept them and move on. I actually think there are more mistakes with the TMO because I think there’s a subconscious level in the officials saying, “it’s ok if I miss it, the TMO will pick it up” and if we reduce the impact of the TMO it’ll force the referee and AR to look at things a bit more closely.
Once again congratulations to the Springboks. Despite every fibre of my being wishing that the ABs would’ve won this game, it wasn’t to be. I absolutely don’t blame the officials for the ABs losing. I think they made it harder for them to win, but at the end of the day the ABs got a few decisions wrong, they didn’t adapt to the officials on the day and the ball bounced the right way for the Boks so the game didn’t go the way I wanted.
However, the sun still came up and life moves on. Let’s see how the ABs go under their new coach and let’s look forward to the next match when once again we know our team will come out victorious.