The Lions will win the Super Rugby final. They’re at home, the Crusaders have had to fly to Johannesburg and captain Kieran Read is carrying an injury.
It will be a fantastic result and a big boost for rugby in South Africa, but let’s make sure that we use our position as Super Rugby champions to speak out about which areas of the competition need to be fixed, because speaking out when you come second, third or fourth sounds like you’re whinging.
There’s been a lot of whinging about referee Jaco Peyper’s officiating at Ellis Park in the semi-final, and that made me think about the infamous Flower Bomb Test between the All Blacks and South Africa at Eden Park in 1981.
Allan Hewson won the match with a penalty kick in injury time. People who remember that Test still talk about Welsh referee Clive Norling blowing that penalty – we still think it was a crap decision, but imagine if Norling had been a Kiwi!?
In a sport where coaches get hired and fired on results, and television rights are in the millions of dollars, how do we not have a neutral referee in these games?
I’m not saying Peyper or any other referee is cheating, but the competition opens itself up to criticism by appointing officials with national ties to one of the teams. If Peyper makes any decision against the home team, he’s vilified, and when he blows in favour of the home team, people ask questions.
I look at Super Rugby and I ask why we don’t have money to fly an Australian referee to South Africa for the semi-finals.
The Hurricanes went from 22-3 up to losing the semi-final on a massive yellow-card decision. When you look at that decision in the context of a competition where a lot of players weren’t yellow-carded for incidents that were worse than that, I can see how that’s a bitter pill for the Kiwis to swallow, and how Peyper’s nationality is an easy target.
In that decision, the rematch of last year’s final was negatively affected by the sending off of the reigning World Rugby Player of the Year in the Lions’ first home semi-final. That’s not a great advert for the competition.
Do you think New Zealand will ever play in a World Cup final with a Kiwi ref? If the answer is no, then how can we accept it in Super Rugby?
There’s more money in rugby now than there ever was before, and we used to have neutral referees. There was a time when Jonathan Kaplan couldn’t ref Sharks games because he lived in Durban. And in the French championship, you can’t have a referee controlling a match if he lives in the same area as one of the teams.
As a schoolmaster, if my team was invited to a rugby tournament where the home team got to pick the referees, I wouldn’t sign up for that. So how can that happen in the professional game?
And then we wonder why the Crusaders played their semi-final at a half-empty AMI Stadium. We’re talking about the seven-time champions against the Chiefs, and it was far from full. The Hurricanes played Australia’s top side in the quarter-final, and their stadium was empty.
For the Lions, about 30,000 people went to Ellis Park. I remember times, during the Super 6 and Super 10, when you couldn’t get a ticket to see Transvaal play Queensland.
The two Kiwi teams that had to travel for the semi-finals both lost. That shows you how much of a factor travel is in Super Rugby. And that’s why you can pretty much look at the draw at the beginning of the season and work out who is going to reach the semi-finals.
Professional sport can’t survive like that. The most followed sports leagues in the world are the ones that are the least predictable.
Rugby needs to level the playing fields to bring back contests that are less predictable, and the Lions can help that process by speaking out. After they beat the Crusaders.