De Villiers blows up storm over Irish refs
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers could face censure from officialdom after making critical comments about two Irish referees regarding the South Africans' opening Tri Nations matches.
De Villiers made the extraordinary allegation that New Zealand's two victories over the South Africans in the past fortnight could have been due to a conspiracy aimed at boosting interest in the game in New Zealand ahead of next year's World Cup.
The controversial coach has questioned the interpretations of two Irish referees, Alain Rolland and Alan Lewis, over infringements at the breakdown in his side's defeats to the All Blacks in New Zealand.
An official spokesman admitted last night that SANZAR (South Africa, New Zealand and Australia Rugby) were "aware" of the comments and would look into them. But the Tri Nations official organising body may be forced to act after it fined Australian Test player Matt Giteau AUS$5,000 for joking publicly that the Brumbies "might not turn up" for another match due to be refereed by Steve Walsh in this year's Super 14.
The severity of that punishment astonished most southern hemisphere observers.
What de Villiers said appeared far worse than Giteau's comments. Asked about the Springboks' two defeats, he said: "I've got my own observations about the last two Tests and I can't say it in public. But we do have a World Cup in New Zealand next year and maybe it was the right thing for them to win the games so they can attract more people to the games next year."
Whether IRB referee supremo Paddy O'Brien will accept even the unintended suggestion that his referees might have been involved in the outcome of the two Test matches seems doubtful. Was de Villiers saying Irish referees Alan Lewis and Alain Rolland were somehow implicit in helping the All Blacks win? Surely not.
Yet his comments may well invite a full SANZAR inquiry with potentially serious consequences for the coach. If Giteau was fined for what was seen as little more than a joke, then it seems inevitable that the South African coach will at the very least be investigated for his remarkable statement.
The controversy comes on the eve of one of South Africa's most important Test matches in years, against Australia tomorrow -- a game which will also have an Irish referee, George Clancy. Successive defeats in New Zealand without even a single bonus point mean the Boks must beat Australia in Brisbane if they're to retain any hope of holding onto their Tri Nations title.
Whether this affair will help their chances is a moot point. But it somehow sums up the chaos into which this Springbok Tri Nations tour has developed, with two players, Bakkies Botha and Jean de Villiers, sent home early for disciplinary offences and others through injury.