Winning beats whining

Stephen Nell

One thing I have learned in many years of rugby journalism is that you can’t fight the game’s officialdom. In fact, screaming about injustice is pretty much like farting against thunder.

Referees side with referees but, more importantly, governing bodies side with referees. They very seldom break ranks.

Remember “Justice 4 Bakkies” and the armbands the Boks wore during the third Test against the British and Irish Lions in 2009 to protest the suspension of bruising lock Bakkies Botha?

Botha’s sin was cleaning out Adam Jones at a ruck so hard that the Lions prop suffered a dislocated shoulder. Jones himself called it fair play and expressed surprise that Bakkies copped a two-week suspension.

On reflection the Boks should have let the Lions do the talking on their behalf.

Not only did those armbands saddle the South African Rugby Union and players with fines, but a so-called “independent committee” chastised them to the point of possible suspension from the 2011 World Cup being a talking point. Mercifully “legal technicalities” stood in the way of a severe sanction.

I was reminded of all that following the none-too-subtle digs at World Rugby from the Bok camp this past week in the wake of Owen Farrell’s unpunished tackle on André Esterhuizen at Twickenham.

Anyone with basic knowledge of the laws the game will tell you that a penalty should have been awarded to give Handré Pollard a shot at clinching the Test.

The opposite view has also been expressed by former international players, but I doubt they’re being honest. The honesty should come from World Rugby, who have greeted the fallout with a deafening silence. No doubt this adds to the prevailing sense of injustice, which the Boks are quite entitled to feel.

Nonetheless, the best advice one can offer them is to build a bridge and get over it. Rather take out the frustration on additional lineout drills and reflect on why so many opportunities were squandered.

Officialdom doesn’t have the sense of humour to appreciate that little video in which Erasmus teaches Esterhuizen how to tackle like Farrell. In fact, some blazer in a high office has probably taken offence and believes it is propaganda from inside the heart of the South African camp.

What the Boks need now is mental fortitude. Losing a Test in that way hurts. Particularly so if played at Twickenham. But what we don’t want is for that sense of injustice to spill over into poor discipline.

Nigel Owens is a more experienced and better referee than Angus Gardner, so whoever ‘Farrell-tackles’ in Paris on Saturday will walk the plank. If it happens to be one of our guys, South Africans will be screaming injustice and experts will express their dismay at the lack of consistency in the game.

South Africans, in a perverse sort of way, enjoy that because we have been the perpetrators of some famous incidents of foul play. Remember Johan le Roux biting Sean Fitzpatrick’s ear? And Bakkies, whether having suffered an injustice or not against the Lions in 2009, could hardly lay claim to angelic status.

It feels good to be able to take the moral high ground, doesn’t it? And, some friends and colleagues have told me, Farrell would have been hung, drawn and quartered had he been a Springbok.

Perhaps, but it doesn’t matter because justice isn’t always served in rugby’s disciplinary processes. We’ve seen that movie often enough to be able to know that a stubborn refusal to accept our fate can make things worse than they already are.

- Stephen Nell

Let's chat

  • D John

    As a South African, we should move on. I write this from the perspective of a Rugby Fan. The key problem here is World Rugby’s silence on the matter. By not saying anything, they are causing more confusion around the matter of what will and won’t be policed.

    World Rugby are to blame, they should come out and say, “Yes it was legal” or “No it was not and Angus made a mistake”. This would have cleared confusion about WR’s new tackle laws. As a fan, we know that a ref will always miss a call here and there so when he admits being wrong (as Craig/Nigel have done) it’s okay, we move on.

    Because of their silence, something will happen this weekend at least once in one of the international games. You can’t blame players/coaches/refs getting frustrated at these calls when the boss (WR) doesn’t even know what they want.

    PS – just for Herman – we have domkrag rugby to blame for everything.

    • Herman Schroder?

      Yes my friend dom krag has been our Achilles heel since 2009 no doubt. Nine years later and no change at all as delivered in vivid colour last Saturday.

      As for THE tackle I consider it a 50/50 call. AE was motoring along with only one thing in mind and that was to run through the defender. Pure dom krag by the way, why not draw the defender and PASS to a genuine speedster, there was SPACE. From Farrell’s point of view it is perfectly natural to tense up to expect the hit and the natural tendency is to put your shoulder in for the high speed collision. Despite that one arm did go around with the other fended off by AE himself. Hence the decision as pointed out by AG. But I do agree 50/50 at best with the rub of the green going England’s way.

      And for another perspective If the roles were reversed and AE had klapped Farrell to win the game will the bleeding hearts in SA be crying or celebrating a win they did not deserve to get anyway ? I rest my case. Cheers.

    • Johan

      I disagree with the whole sweeping refereeing problems under the rug thing…

      How many games have been decided by refereeing blunders? Not to mention the errors referees make during the game that get less of a spotlight because it was a dramatic error at the end that cost a team the game…

      We need to acknowledge that refereeing in rugby SUCKS… I don’t think it is just a ref issue either, we have all seen good refs make massive, obvious, errors. Why does this happen? Is the rules too complicated, do we need two refs on the field?

      These questions will not get answered by us sweeping the issue under the rug (again) and just blindly accepting the decitions…

      Shine a spotlight on the issue, make it even bigger! World Rugby still haven’t said/done anything!

      PS – Domkrag made our centers pass once each in 80 minutes, with 59% possession, and we lost…

      • Herman Schroder?

        Johan spot on. One pass says it all. Cheers.

    • Greg Shark

      DJ….. you remind me of WP character that used to comment on IOL Sport until the commentary option got canned. You got the same humour…….if you’re the one and same, I feel sorry for ol’ hermie…..
      Besides that you’ve put the issue in a nutshell without long boring wishy washy diatribe….

      • Herman Schroder?

        Greg, thanks for that. Great to hear you are still reading every word I write. It gives me real motivation to continue relentlessly with my ambition to end the dom krag crisis in our rugby. Remember though shooting the messenger ain’t solving the problem. Cheers.

        • Greg Shark

          you’re not special hermie….. I read everybody’s comments whether I’m in agreement or not, boring or not, same old message or not….surely you’ve noticed that? What’s that old saying about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? Some messengers deserve to be shot…..! LOL

  • Sharky

    LOL!!! But funnily enough I do think that World Rugby needs to be transformed. There is way too much whiteness on the World Rugby board – in the form of white hairs. I mean really, I’ve just looked at their mug shots and apart from Augustin Pichot and Mark Robinson it’s just a sea of white haired geriatric farts. And the laager attitude of World Rugby (were any alternative view is a threat) and their shear inconsistency (denouncing Craig Joubert for a mistake that was only clear in super slow mo but remaining silent on Gardener’s clear as daylight blunder) is astonishing!

    The rugby world deserved better than World Rugby. The rugby world needs an organisation that isn’t aspiring to be rugby’s FIFA, but which is aspiring to serve the needs of the rugby world at large. To do that we need an organisation that engages with the rugby world, that is innovative and which isn’t lead by someone who looks like the effort involved in smiling is about to give him a stroke. In short – we need to abolish the old boys’ club.

    • SweetAz

      Yeah, but apparently someone felt deeply offended by my sense of humour,—just so difficult these days. Everybody feels entitled to get offended by the most incongruous comment.
      Snowflakes.

      • Herman Schroder?

        Who removed it ? I would dearly love to see an example of your ‘sense of humour’. The last time I read your post you were dealing in Capital Letters, lol. Cheers.

      • Sharky

        Yeah SweetAZ, I saw that your viciously millitant and inflamatory comment was removed ;p

    • Greg Shark

      only too true…poor old Craig Joubert got hung drawn and quartered, his carcass then shoved into the washing machine, washed thoroughly whiter than white (no more ugly stains caused by wrong calls), pulled out, hand wrung and pegged to dry in the full blazing hot glare of every eye in the rugby world…… and World Rugby is silent on Gardner?

      • Herman Schroder?

        Rubbish, AE purposefully ran into Farrell like all domkraggers do. Farrell didn’t have time to defend himself, lol. Cheers.

        • Greg Shark

          comical as usual or just plain stupid…..difficult to tell though the needle flickers towards just plain stupid…

  • dbaggins

    Not quite in agreement Stephan

    What you are proposing in practical terms is that we as the Springboks should just take it and accept it.
    I am in agreement that the way these scenarios have been handled by the springboks in the past have been poor. Roman Poite, Bryce Lawrence ect. all spring to mind.
    But by just accepting our fate handed to us by the great overlords of world rugby like obedient and diligent peasants. Will always result in us getting the raw deal with not much satisfaction or recourse.
    It won’t change the status quo. But neither will the way that we have approached it the last 15-20 years.

    What is required is a more subtle and proactive approach. With highly skilled people involved in SARU to manipulate and weight the dice in our favor. The AB’s and Eng don’t enjoy their lofty positions by chance. It is a well thought chess game of risk and probability. We have just been to engaged in dampening other fires that we don’t even engage on that playing field as SARU.

    • Barry

      Hallelujah! Yes agreed, this is our National side, our National pride and not a bunch of school kids in the naughty corner!
      If our National side has been unfairly treated then we need to lay a formal complaint with World Rugby and ask for clarity. It is something that should come from our administrators rather than the coach and players!
      If you think about it, World Rugby do not have a formal complaint so why are we expecting them to respond! If they had a formal complaint, they would be obliged to respond! We have the protocol wrong not the cause!

      • nezo

        dbaggins and Barry

        perfectly said gentlemen. not what was said above you. straight to the issue. not everything else around SA rugby.

  • John Comyn

    We don’t have a representative on the exec committee where all the other tier 1 countries do. Even USA has a representative. The chairman, Bill Beaumont (England) is “dead man walking” and unlikely to last much longer.Bottom line is WR are not going to be doing us any favors. We’ve had some shockers on this NH tour over the years. Funnily enough OZ and NZ refs. One that stands out is against Ireland when the ref allowed our captain to talk to the players after a series of infringements and an Irish player (I think it was O’Gara) took the tap penalty and scored untouched while we had our backs to them. The ref allowed a try.

    • nezo

      Mr John Comyn please don’t remind us about that Irish day. it still hurts my man. and then this English day. hope we not getting a Welsh day in this Century lol

  • Nick

    complaining to the ref or challenging some of his decisions carries a lot more weight when you have won. When you lose its just seen as sour grapes.

    Problem is, We mostly have no interest in complaining when we do win and every reason/excuse to complain when we lose.

    Fantastic advice that, ‘rather win’…Lol. obvious.

  • Alberto

    Writing to submit our 500 words Stephen..?

    Your moral high-ground is a dungheap and only you and one or two scribes are on it!

    Well done to the Sprinkboks and Coaches for their handling of this – if Angus Gardner and World Rugby lack integrity, their noses should be rubbed in it. Probably only an “expert” would believe that South Africa intends to tackle that way in future – but the furore raised by the possibility, certainly underlines how wrong the ref and world rugby got this incident.

    It is not whining about losing, or a tackle – we lose far too often (99/100 times self-inflicted), and cop bad decisions – to cry anymore – but mute acceptance of total absence if integrity, would be criminal….

    • John Comyn

      Abso bloody lutely! Gardner was waiting to be given the opportunity to blow the final whistle otherwise he would have penalized them for off-sides in the move that lead up to the tackle. There was no ways on earth he and his touch judges could have missed it!

  • earlly

    The IRB/World Rugby, whatever name they go by are worthy of nothing but contempt. I could site thousands of examples, but a verbaasendelikke kak decision was the awarding of the next WC to France and the process that brought it on.

    They are not our friends.

    • nezo

      Eish. you guys are making me said. i think the only way to get Justice for that one is going there and bringing back the cup.

      my goal has always been that world cup not the next one. i hope Rassy can think the same. now just build our team to win consistently 80% of the time. that should be the goal for the next 3 years. nothing else

    • Whinger

      All the more reason to get our house in order and let our rugby do the talking. Winning in spite of what gets thrown at us. Best way to give them the middle finger. Prosper in the face of adversity. Very satisfying if you achieve it.

      • Herman Schroder?

        Correct Whinger. Cheers.

  • Wesley

    I agree with Stephens sentiment. Take it on the chin and move on. But not entirely directly after the fact i would say. I am sure Rassie did take up the call in his after match assessment of Gardner and process was followed, but the post match conference comments from Rassie was spot on. And so the video of the “tackle practice” as well. They cannot take sanction on any of it, leaving them red faced with no recourse, unlike the Bakkies armbands. It has now been put out there, called out well without breaking their rules, creating enough of a hype where they have no other option of at least discussing their falterings behind closed doors in their ivory towers. I say well done to Rassie and his team. It has no doubt created a galvanizing effect in the camp and from here they can move forward and be stronger from it.

  • Matt

    My concerns,as a father of a teenage son playing highschool rugby, and as a fan of the sport in general, I find actually delighted that Rassie hasn’t let this go.

    This isn’t about the match result at all. Its about the very real dangers going forward thanks to the precedent that World Rugby have set now and the continued significant problem of inconsistency to the lvl of outright contradiction from those in charge of the well-being of the game.

    We didn’t lose the game because the decision. There is more at stake that a result, rugby itself now stands at risk to lose going forward thanks to the approach taken by those meant to be custodians of this fabulous game and it is high time somebody refused to backdown for the good of rugby.

    And honestly, am completely not surprised that person ended up being Rassie either. Now just to hope the world open’s its eyes to see this is far more important and crucial than a simple result not going the way of the Boks.

    • Herman Schroder?

      Matt, Or a cute way for Rassie to deflect from the real problems on the field that day ? Cheers.

      • Matthew

        Do you even take yourself seriously anymore? You fallen so far off the rails it comedic gold and utterpy entertaining.

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