Bulls fiasco: Refs ‘lack balls’

    2015-06-06 11:02

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – Testicular resolve, or at least a perceived lack thereof, was a dominant theme of angry reaction in South Africa to the Bulls’ controversial bundling out of Super Rugby playoffs contention at the hands of the Rebels in Melbourne on Saturday.

    The team from Pretoria, admittedly looking less and less these days like the three-time champions they are, were banished to 2015 obscurity in a deeply controversial 21-20 reverse, which leaves them playing only for crumbs of pride when they entertain the Cheetahs in the final round of ordinary season at Loftus next weekend.

    This latest heartbreak stretched their winless run overseas to an abject 11 matches as Frans Ludeke’s charges experienced a second successive four-game programme abroad as losers every time - their last victory was in the first assignment of the distant 2013 tour, nudging out the Blues 28-21.

    That statistic, as much as anything else, tells you plenty about the tactical and determination-related shortcomings that have crept with increasing vigour into the Loftus corral like a winter rising damp: even a lot of Bulls diehards will be questioning whether the once-fruitful Ludeke regime has any further shelf life.

    The blunt truth is that even if the Bulls had won the latest fixture, and justice from officialdom had prevailed - perhaps simultaneously keeping their top-six aspirations hanging by a fraying thread - they continued to look one-dimensional, erratic and disorganised and highly unlikely to advance meaningfully toward a fourth title.

    Yet they also totally warrant the wave of national sympathy that has accompanied the television match official decision which quite possibly robbed them of an overdue triumph over the similarly mediocre Rebels.

    Early in the critical fourth quarter, with the scoreboard already reading what turned out to be the final outcome, strongly-built Bulls inside centre Burger Odendaal crashed over the line for what looked at least 90 percent like a thoroughly legitimate touchdown with little hint of improper control of the ball or a compelling Rebels defensive hand beneath it.

    Referee Nick Briant of New Zealand probably could have justified awarding it there and then, although he opted to take it “upstairs” ... crucially, however, without asking the pertinent question: “Is there any reason not to award the try?”

    Instead he effectively empowered the Aussie TMO, Ian Smith, to make the important judgment, and somehow the official found grounds to suggest there was enough doubt to rule it out - despite replays only appearing to confirm to most viewers that the try was fine.

    The latest furore follows earlier flashpoints this season in which SA teams undergoing the demanding Australasian trek have been diddled by incompetence either with the whistle or in TMO situations.

    On one such occasion SANZAR even felt obliged to downgrade Aussie referee, Rohan Hoffmann.

    There was real fury over the latest booboo, with neutral SuperSport analyst and former All Blacks coach John Mitchell saying: “I give up; referees should grow some ... and overpower a (wrong) TMO decision.”

    Former Springbok and Stormers wing Breyton Paulse chimed in: “This is unacceptable, unprofessional ... it has spoilt my Saturday. That possibly cost the Bulls a playoffs spot.”

    Returning to the testicular theme, Bok front-ranker of the 1990s Keith Andrews (@KeithKandrews) tweeted: “Refs appear to have no balls to make the calls! Who’s in charge? The lawmakers?”

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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