Friday 15 December 2017

Tony Ward: Refs must be made pay for their errors

Poite's sin-bin fiasco ruined Boks' hopes and robbed fans of epic clash

Bismarck Du Plessis tackles Dan Carter during Saturday's game between New Zealand and South Africa in an incident which saw the Springbok hooker controversially sin-binned
Bismarck Du Plessis tackles Dan Carter during Saturday's game between New Zealand and South Africa in an incident which saw the Springbok hooker controversially sin-binned
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

In an extraordinarily high-quality GAA championship season, there was one real negative and it related to red cards issued in the Munster hurling final and All-Ireland semi-final to Cork's Patrick Horgan and Dublin's Ryan O'Dwyer respectively.

Many column inches have been devoted to the rights and wrongs of each match-changing decision so no need to go down that road; however, what is for sure is that the reduction to 14 men saw both of these massive games ruined and the momentum handed to Limerick and Cork in that order.

In each case, the match officials – James McGrath and James Owens – were arbitrating as fairly as they could in the circumstances, and crucially they were calling their games without the benefit of video playback or TMO adjudicators in their ears.

By contrast, on Saturday in Auckland, the biggest game of the rugby year to date was spoiled by a clearly incorrect call by French referee Romain Poite.

A match between the All Blacks and Springboks that was building into one of the all-time epics was blasted into oblivion by an off-the-wall decision.

For the record, the outstanding hooker in the game, Bismarck du Plessis, put in a crunching tackle timed to perfection and executed legitimately on Kiwi star turn Dan Carter. The fact that Carter shipped a debilitating injury in the process is secondary to the legitimacy of the tackle.

The real damage to the game, and perhaps more importantly the credibility of the video replay system, was in TMO George Ayoub and referee Poite not arbitrating accurately on the unambiguous evidence presented.


In the event of passing it back to the referee, Du Plessis was wrongly sent to the bin, the Blacks scored an almost mandatory seven-pointer in his absence and, even upon his return, the Springboks were chasing the game.

That said, they were still in it but, soon after the break, following a second offence, Du Plessis was presented with red.

For Owens in Croke Park back in August read Poite in Eden Park now.

The second yellow card, for leading with the elbow (in the direction of Liam Messam) in the tackle – though unintentional – warranted the bin but certainly not red and, as with O'Dwyer for the Dubs, it inflicted a clear injustice on his team and on the match as a contest.

However, unlike Anthony Daly's hurlers, for Heyneke Meyer's Boks, once they were reduced to seven forwards, the game was over as a contest and the points presented to the All Blacks for the taking.

In defence of the International Rugby Board, the governing body has been fast out of the traps in admitting errors were made by all the officials involved. To their credit, they have since struck the red card from Du Plessis' record.

Does that soften the blow? No, not at all. What else can they do? Just as a player suffers sanction for foul play or another is dropped for loss of form, the same principle apply to the referee and the TMO.

There is a very real message for TMOs everywhere.

To err is human, but better communication between the TMO and referee would clearly make for fairer judgment.

Rugby was the loser in Auckland, despite the Springbok coach facing down the cameras in the immediate aftermath with admirable dignity and the New Zealand commentating team (Justin Marshall et al) calling it with commendable fairness throughout.

They recognised the injustice for what it was, saw the obvious ramifications (game over as a contest) and called it accordingly.

That is of little consolation to Du Plessis, his team-mates, management and to a world-wide rugby audience sold short by the call.

Once Poite was presented with the information from Ayoub of no clear and obvious intent (by Du Plessis), how could he (the referee) possibly deem a yellow card his next course of action?

If it takes the TMO to state loud and clear in the match official's ear "there is no reason for any further action", then let that be the lesson learnt from what could have been another classic All Black/Springbok encounter.

Unless he too is called to task, the referee will not learn from the error.

It could be described as the IRB's Hawk-Eye moment but it must not happen again.

Everybody involved needs to be called to task by the governing body and new, improved guidelines issued.

The decision to use video technology for the betterment of the game is to be lauded, but for the referee to then do his own thing is just not good enough.

Poite had a poor outing on Saturday with his whistling of the scrum.

It was as if he was refereeing the laws prior to the 'bind' being added between 'touch and engage'.

A bad day for the game and bad day for officialdom all round.

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