Family events conspired to prevent me watching the entirety of the rugby union Second Test match yesterday between South Africa and the British & Irish Lions in Capetown as I had originally planned.
I did not reach the sanctuary of home until just before half-time last night and made an on-the-spot decision not to go to the beginning of my “telerecorded” version of the whole match but instead take up the story “live” from the commencement of the second stanza in order to “enjoy” the action/result simultaneously with other viewers around the globe.
Sporting Rusters will already be aware of the headline that the hosts’ conclusive 27-9 victory – involving 21 unanswered second half points after being 6 – 9 down at half time – has set up the three-Test series for a spectacular “winner takes all” decider next Saturday evening.
This morning I have a few comments to make at one remove from the minute-to-minute action as it unfolded last night.
For this observer, the events of the past week building up to yesterday’s clash – and then the game itself – highlighted some of the thorny issues facing World Rugby generally including the several differences in approach of the leading Northern and Southern Hemisphere rugby countries.
Without doubt rugby union is one of the most elemental and compelling of physical contact sports and yet the complexity of its laws – and the variations in how they are interpreted by match officials in different parts of the world – can give rise to regular frustrations for players, coaches and spectators alike, as anyone watching the “TMO video replays” of match-play incidents (including those determining whether tries have been scored and/or incidents of foul play have taken place and, if so, what sanction should be applied) over the last five or so years will testify.
The First Test featured at least three – and possibly as many as five – key incidents that were referred by Aussie referee Nic Berry and his assistants to the TMO and, after varying time periods and discussions, were determined one way or another.
Personally I felt that, on the evidence I saw, one try that South Africa (who lost the match) was given – and another “possible try” that was not – were decided the “wrong” way. Furthermore, there were another two 50:50 incidents which – on the video replays – I felt could easily have been “given” the opposite way to that which was eventually dished out.
The only saving grace on all of these – to be fair to the officials – was that one was able to hear their conversations via their on-pitch microphones: on the basis of what they were describing they thought they had seen, the verdicts they reached were in all cases at least logical.
In the second half of yesterday’s Second Test that I watched there were several TMO-referred incidents – some involving potential foul play and some potential tries – which (again) I felt were decided the “wrong” way.
That said, I am totally in favour of the “transparency” with which rugby union officials now go about seeking to get to the bottom of what actually happened – indeed I believe that in all sports the spectators being allowed to “listen in” to officials’ deliberations generally assists understanding of the game and the rules – and yet, for me, the system adopted in cricket is superior to that deployed in rugby union.
None of the above exonerates the “mind games” (if that is what they were) being played by both head coaches during the week up to yesterday’s Second Test.
Frankly, the performance of Rassie Eramus has been completely “out of order” and disrespectful to the everything that the game of rugby union (and even South Africa itself) stands for.
Everyone who watches rugby union enjoys its physical “going to war” aspect but – down through history – there have been times when New Zealand and South Africa in particular have taken it to extremes in terms of gamesmanship and even violence.
The Kiwis I tend to give some degree of slack to because – as a bunch – I enjoy their company more, probably because most I’ve ever met have been quieter and less “chippy” than (e.g.) their Aussie counterparts.
In contrast, most South Africans – especially when it comes to rugby – seem to have a superiority complex, warranted or not.
The great Liverpool manager Bill Shankly was once quoted as saying “Some people believe that football in a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that …”.
A certain strain of the South African rugby-following population subscribes to the Shankly creed. What’s more, bubbling under the surface, the use of brute force and “the end justifies the means” is part of its culture.
I thought some of the Springboks’ triumphalism and goading of Lions players in the latter stages of yesterday’s match was disgraceful and contrary to rugby’s supposed ethos of player comradeship, respect and integrity.
At the end of the day it’s only a game, chaps!
And anyway there’s the decider coming next weekend.