Johannesburg - Golden Lions coach Johan Ackermann was close to tearing his hair out in frustration, not so much by the way his team stumbled to a 36-26 loss at the hands of the Blue Bulls in their Currie Cup encounter, but more by the refereeing decisions that negated his side’s normally strong scrum platform.
According to the supersport.com website, Ackermann called the contest “the most boring game” and admitted to being frustrated by referee Marius van der Westhuizen’s high penalty count - against both sides - at the set piece, that robbed the game of much momentum and made it a stop-start affair.
The Lions scrum has normally been one of the dominant ones in this year’s competition, but on Saturday both sides were heavily penalised for not binding properly. The penalty count skyrocketed and the Bulls simply went on to suffocate the Lions with their strong defence, and by keeping the scoreboard ticking.
Ackermann called on officials to sort out the scrums, as the penalties were doing the game harm.
The Lions coach was particularly peeved at the final scrum - when the scoreline was 29-26 and it looked as if the Lions had dominated the set piece, only to have Van der Westhuizen penalise them for walking around. From that scrum the Bulls forced a lineout drive which allowed them to pull away and deny the Lions a bonus point.
“The scrums were a headache - one for you, one for me. Even when you dominate a scrum, you don’t get the reward. I don’t know what they’re going to do? It changes week from week,” Ackermann said in frustration.
“We couldn’t play and I wonder if the Bulls could ever play from a scrum. Every time it was a free kick, or a penalty. Do people come to watch that? Or do they come to watch rugby? Something will need to be done urgently, or are there certain referees who handle scrums very differently to others?”
Ackermann said that while both sides “cheated” in the scrums, at times another referee would have let the scrums go and not give a string of penalties as the ball had already come out.
“If the referee went to the one side, the other side cheated. To me he wasn’t certain what was happening. There were some obvious reasons, all the props were guilty of not binding properly. I would say they didn’t bind, and they would say we didn’t bind. The referee didn’t have control over the scrums,” he added.
“If the ball is won you could probably let it go, but there were times like the last scrum, when we were behind 29-26, I’d like to know what was wrong with that scrum?
“To me we were dominating that scrum. So now you can’t dominate the scrum because the referee feels somebody has done something wrong, and to me that is frustrating.
“Like I said before we were quite under control in the scrums but then suddenly there are a few penalties against you. Mondays are too late, we normally get the apology (from the ref) on a Monday but Mondays are too late.”
It will be interesting to hear what SA Rugby and their referee bosses say about Ackermann’s comments, but if history is anything to go by, the referee will be shielded and the coaches will bear the brunt for expressing their frustration.
Still, even an objective view of the scrums on Saturday will agree they were a shambles, and put a blight on a game that should have been a spectacle.