Talking World Cup Rugby: Poor refereeing lets South Africa off the hook
Did little Welsh referee Nigel Owens cost the spirited, brave Samoans their chance of a major upset at the Rugby World Cup?
Having just got back from North Harbour stadium and watched the crucial incident several times, I suspect the answer may be ‘yes’.
If that is the case, it was a tragedy for Samoa who must now go home and for Owens, who has surely said goodbye to his chances of refereeing the final.
You could say that the match turned on a single moment in the 66th minute. Samoan centre Eliota Fuimaono Sapolu cut a clever, lacerating angle at pace through the heart of the South African defence and seemed certain to score close to the posts.
A converted try then would have made it 13-12 and the ‘Boks would have been hanging on. But the outstanding Schalk Burger saw the danger and hurled himself at Sapolu, smothering him for crucial seconds right on the South African goal line.
But then came the critical moment. Samoan captain Mahonri Schwalger picked up the ball at the back of the ruck and went for the line. He lost control of it because Springbok wing JP Pietersen ripped it out of his hands as he went to dive for the line.
But Pietersen had no right to play the ball. He was off his feet at the ruck and should have been out of the game. But like a lot of other things on a frantic, fizzing night in which tempers were never far from boiling point, Welsh referee Owens missed the offence and the South Africans escaped.
Owens red carded Samoan full-back Paul Williams three minutes later for what an assistant referee called “striking” Heinrich Brussouw. Williams clearly fouled Brussouw and then shoved him over with a flat hand to the face. But it was not a punch and the decision smacked of over reaction. A yellow card would have been a better decision.
One minute later, Springbok captain John Smit who had only been on the field two minutes, got a yellow card for deliberately knocking down the ball to prevent another Samoan attack moving off.
Did Owens wave the yellow card because he knew he’d over reacted in the case of Williams? We shall never know. But one thing is clear.
Smit has been a great player for South Africa but his wide-eyed protests of innocence were frankly pathetic. If he doesn’t want to serve the time he shouldn’t commit the crime. To see a Springbok captain trying to con everyone that he’d actually tried to catch the ball – one handed, mark you – was ridiculous.
However, you have to say this was a game that had everything, except high quality refereeing. It was a magnificent, compelling spectacle for the near 30,000 crowd at North Harbour and both a wonderful advert for the Rugby World Cup and a great testimony to Samoa’s immense spirit.
When the Springboks trotted off 13-0 up at half time, they cannot have imagined the attacking storm that would break over them for the whole second half. Samoa, criminally guilty of constantly losing the ball in the first half as 14 turnovers in the first 40 minutes confirmed, threw everything they had at them. It was brutal and brilliant, all at the same time.
The Springboks got home by superb defensive work all over the field. Everyone played their part from Victor Matfield who helped cut down the flying Sapolu inside the South African 22, to Patrick Lambie who made a great tap tackle on the speedy David Lemi when he was threatening to burst clean through and to the likes of Danie Rossouw who again worked like a Trojan all night.
Collectively, the ‘Boks defence was absolutely fantastic. Had it not been, Samoa would almost certainly have broken through at least twice in the second half.
So Samoa go home but what a memory they left us with.Tagged in: england, New Zealand, Nigel Owens, rugby union, samoa, Scotland, south africa, world cup
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