The pain just won't go away
OPINION: Sometimes you get a feeling things just aren't going to turn out right.
I had that intra-spinal feeling on Friday night when the Manawatu Turbos led by the way-too-slender margin of 11-10 against Southland at Invercargill.
They did look as if they might hang on as the clock counted down ever so blimmin' slowly.
It was far from perfect, but it seemed the Turbos might pull off something remarkable - win their final two round-robin games and hike off to Pukekohe for a semifinal.
The players fancied another lick at Counties-Manukau. They felt Tana Umaga's fliers had got away with a lucky one (31-28) when they met at FMG three weeks previously.
It's likely that Counties will be happier facing the more orthodox Southland Stags on Saturday, than the less predictable Manawatu.
But had Turbos flanker Callum Gibbins not been pulled back from his storming run four minutes from time, the Stags would have been stuffed.
Halfback Karl Bryson's dart ahead of Gibbins spurred referee Kane McBride to penalise them for obstruction.
Back in my day that would have been ruled accidental offside and a scrum put down or a free kick awarded, at worst. But nowadays referees inflict capital punishment for such a crime, just as they sinbin players for repeat technical offences and which impact on the game out of proportion to the offence.
Anyway, that penalty gave me the jeebies. Things can happen so fast, players are rocked back on their heels and Southland had everything to gain by going for broke.
Referee McBride had been fair for most of the match, even if he refused to ping Southland captain Jamie Mackintosh for not binding. Had that been Manawatu prop Eric Fry, he would have blown his whistle.
But as Richie McCaw has said in his book, as tight games count down, many referees freeze rather than risk the tough call. And late in the game a Manawatu body flopped on the wrong side of a ruck and there wasn't a tweet.
And so it ended with Southland's Marty McKenzie flinging himself over the tryline. Suddenly McBride, after 11 seconds of grass grubbing, overcame his frigidity and made a call which should have been the video geezer's. All through the game the video guy had been unemployed up in his box. One of the Southland touch judges joined McBride in the melee, poking his nostril in when it was none of his business.
We hear McKenzie wasn't sure if he had scored and was sheepish about it after the game.
The boss guy might sympathise, but then dismiss it as just another team down on its luck pushing another perceived injustice.
Team officials cop fines if they lambast referees publicly. The TV commentators, as on Friday night, are obviously under orders because almost no-one has questioned referees' indiscretions since Murray Mexted had the gonads to do it, and was deemed offside by the subservient Sky TV bosses.
A few years ago a Manawatu coach at Paeroa took the match video, opened the door to the refs' room and frisbeed it inside, hollering, "you need this more than I do".
In future the Turbos just have to take the referee out of the equation. But that doesn't make the sight of McBride striding away smartly upfield, happy with himself, as my biro hit the middle of my flattie, any more palatable.
It took a good quarter of an hour to regain my poise before I could tap out the first words of the match report. Go Counties!
Among the second-fives Sonny Bill Williams stayed true to his principles when he made a hand-shake, Ma'a Nonu's might as well have been a milk-shake.
Would the road cyclist who didn't take drugs back in the Armstrong era please stand up, if there is one. So it was a level field after all.
Scary: Sitting at traffic lights in the Manawatu Gorge, waiting!
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