THE Australian referee was the obvious fall guy, but it was the Sharks’ litany of unforced errors which cost them a weekend victory against the Waratahs.
The defending champions won by a flattering 15-point margin but it was the curious, confusing refereeing of Rohan Hoffman which has dominated the postmortems.
At times his officiating bordered on farce. Australian television commentators are not renowned for their impartiality, but even they frequently pointed out that the Sharks were getting the short end of the stick.
The Sydney Morning Herald said yesterday it was a match “that will be remembered for some deeply controversial officiating as much as any of the rugby”.
Under the heading “Referee Rohan Hoffman saves the NSW Waratahs”, rugby writer Paul Cully said that the Sharks were not the only side to have left Sydney mumbling under their breath about the officials.
“But the South Africans have more to complain about than most. Quite simply, referee Rohan Hoffman and his team of officials prevented the Sharks from a fair crack at winning the game.
“The decision to disallow S’bura Sithole’s try was based on the murkiest of evidence and even the penalty for a JP Pietersen ‘knock down’ that put NSW eight points up with 10 minutes to play looked soft. Both were in keeping with a night that the visitors put in everything and got nothing in return,” Cully wrote.
Former Witness sportswriter Ken Borland tweeted John Smit immediately after the match, suggesting that the Sharks CEO should launch an official complaint — “I’ve seen match-fixing in cricket,” Borland joked.
“I’m sure Sanzar leadership is strong enough to do something before we need to enquire, I hope,” Smit responded. “As you know I can’t share my views here.”
In spite of the referee making a dog’s breakfast of this contest, it was a game the Sharks could have won had they showed greater accuracy at the lineout, in their handling and in defence.
The same old problems persist and are overshadowing their wholehearted effort and improving attack. An inept refereeing display is a massive frustration, particularly when the team keep losing, but it should not distract the Sharks from what is the root cause of their failures — their poor execution of the basics.
Captain Marco Wentzel blamed the Sharks’ defeat on “too many soft moments”.
Again the Sharks missed 30 tackles, again balls were fumbled — four intercept passes were dropped — and this time it was hooker Bismarck du Plessis and his jumpers who were out of kilter, and at least half-a-dozen lineouts went missing in the second half. It cost them valuable possession and attacking bridgeheads deep in Waratahs’ territory.
The Sharks were fortunate on the day that the Waratahs were not a patch of the team who won the title last year. Their handling and passing was also shoddy but the Sharks were not accurate enough to punish the 21 turnovers the Waratahs conceded.
The Stormers, on their bye, will have enjoyed watching the Round 14 action as all their local rivals, the Sharks, Bulls, Lions and Cheetahs, were beaten by Australasian opponents. It was the darkest of weekends for South African rugby — but also for Australian referee Peter D’Rohan Hoffmann