Have Stormers rubbed up refs?
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - In these challenging economic times, expect a disapproving wince from the bosses at Newlands when they cough up the almost R230 000 fine
imposed upon the Stormers by SANZAR on Wednesday.
The suits at Boundary Road would be a whole lot happier to fork out the cash, of course, if the once highly-touted team was winning more often at present, and may be slow to see any irony or humour from the fact that the largely mysterious misconduct hoo-ha occurred in the only match Allister Coetzee’s embattled charges have won on tour thus far - against the Hurricanes at Palmerston North.
The whole affair has been inexplicably vague, and why the most important stakeholders in professional rugby, the paying public, have been left so notably in the dark about what actually transpired and who was specifically responsible, only the governing body of Super Rugby knows.
Perhaps like so many sports administrations, they are bogged down in their own self-importance and have deemed it prudent to inflate the matter into some sort of state secret it presumably really is not.
And if there was any special sensitivity to the way Stormers “people” (my deliberately imprecise term, given the absence of specific, named culprits) unloaded any disapproval to the main allegedly aggrieved party, assistant referee Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri, surely there is even more reason for us all to know about it?
Some reports speculate - and they cannot do much more than that - that the Afrikaans word “dankie” (thank you) was sarcastically employed by Stormers personnel as a couple of calls from officialdom went the opposition way, and that it may have been misinterpreted as a heinous “donkey” slur against Mr Eden-Whaitiri and/or others.
Sports referees have been branded many things; if I was one of them I might be inclined to settle for comparison with a four-legged, carrot-munching beast with biggish ears and a docile temperament as a near-compliment.
Let’s face it, more bizarre things have happened on the refereeing scene in Super Rugby this season, where subjective, head-scratching judgements and bouts of baffling hypocrisy by whistle-men and their touchline or television booth back-ups have often reigned influentially supreme.
For the record, and although the hearing transcripts possibly don’t warrant secure filing in some High Court for sober perusal 150 years on, the Stormers eventually ate humble pie and admitted to charges of bringing the game into disrepute, breaching Section 8.3 of the SANZAR code of conduct, having used “insulting and offensive conduct towards match officials”.
I am not saying there may not have been deep merit to the sanction; merely as puzzled as the next guy at the way the good folk who support rugby have been left hanging on the “who was culpable and how?” front.
There may be a lesson to all franchises in the competition, because it is possible this writer is not the only observer irritated from time to time by the cast of thousands of water-carriers and miked-up secondary coaches who patrol the lines during play and, yes, can be known to get unacceptably lippy with referees and their assistants even in circumstances where the officials well-nigh deserve it.
But whatever the merits and demerits of how this particular affair has been handled, the Stormers may just be collectively quaking in their boots if the refereeing fraternity - some of them do appear to revel in their own sanctimonious hold on 80-minute “power” - either deliberately or subconsciously brands them from now on the Cheeky Charlies of the competition who deserve, as the creatively whip-branding prostitute might say to her senior politician client, to be punished willy-nilly.
By the way, there are still some good, suitably dispassionate, non attention-seeking refs out there. Even in Super Rugby.
The Stormers may have to hope like heck they get plenty of them in the next few weeks and months, yes?
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing