Vodacom Super 14

Ref deserves man-of-the-match

2010-03-07 22:30
Paul Marks (Gallo Images)
John Bishop

Durban - Hometown referee Paul Marks, showing impeccable timing and a flagrant disregard of the laws, easily took the man-of-the-match award as he nursed the Waratahs through a tricky final 10 minutes on their way to a 25-21 Super 14 win over the Sharks in Sydney on Saturday.

There were few individual highlights in a ragged contest of too much kicking and too little running, but Marks made a massive impact during the decisive closing moments of the contest to condemn the Sharks to their fourth successive loss in the competition.

When one-eyed Australian commentators openly concede that mistakes are being made by their referee in favour of their team, then it is clear that something is rotten in the state of New South Wales.

The influential Marks had a busy evening, yellow-carding prop Jannie du Plessis for a silly trip and flyhalf Andy Goode for hanging off-side at a ruck and reducing the Sharks to 13 men for eight minutes in the first half. But he saved his best for last with three highly contentious anti-Sharks decisions in the closing 10 minutes which settled the match.

The first came after he generously allowed a series of Waratahs forward passes but then moments later pulled back the Sharks, for a marginal infringement, as they sped through for a try.

The second, minutes from the final whistle, came when Waratahs’ replacement back Kurtley Beale slapped down Stefan Terblanche’s pass to an unmarked Ryan Kankowski 20 metres from the line. Marks yellow-carded Beale but then defied logic, and the lawbook, in not awarding a penalty try.

The law states that a penalty try must be awarded if a try would probably have been scored but for foul play by the defending team. There was no probably about this with Kankowski having a clear run to the line for the winning try but Marks, in spite of Terblanche’s vehement protests, refused to blow to the law.

“That was definitely a penalty try,” an adamant head coach John Plumtree said later. “Ryan would have scored had he been allowed to take that pass. That was a cynical decision and that was the game.”

But Marks was not finished. The Sharks, from the penalty, kicked for an attacking lineout five metres from the Waratahs line. They immediately set up the drive but Marks blew prop Jannie du Plessis for obstruction.

“It was a very odd call,” captain John Smit told reporters. “Jannie was supporting the jumper as he does at every lineout. If he was penalised at that lineout, he should have been blown for all the lineouts on our throw.”

And so another close match – the second this season after the refereeing error on the final whistle in the Chiefs game – dribbled away from the Sharks and, again, the diplomatic Smit was forced to bite his tongue:

“That’s what happens when you play away from home and referees will go against you when you are losing. You don’t get the rub of the green but we had opportunities to win the game.”

Waratahs captain Phil Waugh conceded his team had been “lucky” to win and said it was “one of the more physical games we’ve played at this level.”

While the Sharks will blame the referee for the defeat, they could, and should, have settled this match before the closing minutes.

The Waratahs, tired, panicky and booed by their own crowd, were ripe for the plucking but the Sharks, short of confidence, cohesion and attacking ambition, did not carry the fight to them by keeping the ball in hand.

The Sharks stood up strongly in the set pieces and their scrummaging, against a highly-regarded Wallaby front-row, was consistently good, even when their numbers were reduced by the yellow-cards.

There was some continuity in their play in the second half when they fashioned an excellent try for centre Adi Jacobs by taking the ball through 15 phases but too often they fell back on old habits and kicked for field position.

They also still made too many errors, from kick-offs and in forcing the pass, while their backs lack attacking flair and creativity.

England flyhalf Andy Goode was steady and workmanlike, kicking well at goal and landing a drop from close to 50 metres while scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar, like the team, mixed good with bad.

Plumtree said that basic errors had cost his team and they had allowed the Waratahs to score a couple of soft tries.

“In the second half we were dominant with some pretty good rugby. We had many chances to win this match and it was our own fault.”

And that is about right. These Sharks are not playing well enough to also take on the referee.


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