OPINION: James Horwill, that good old bruising Kiwiphile, said at the weekend that the TMO was ruining rugby. He has a point, but maybe only one of four cardinal points. Horwill could have added serial cheating, repetitive strain injury and bewildering ruck and maul laws to the list.
Every weekend I encounter an earthy old mauler who tells me that they have fallen out of love with rugby. It is hard not to sympathise. There has been some great footie played this season, but last weekend was another example of how myopic administrators and cynical coaches are cocking up the game.
Let's take the TMO as cardinal point one. This is not a misprint, but last Saturday night I felt a good deal of sympathy for Steve Walsh. The great pantomime dame sorted out a stoush between Scott Higginbotham and Ed O'Donoghue, gave a penalty against another Rebels player for wading in and everyone got on with it.
The penalty was taken, ball kicked to touch and the Reds hooker was just about to release the ball to the lineout when this bloke starts buzzing in Walsh's ear. He wants to have a look at suspected foul play.
Walsh clearly doesn't want a bar of it, but he has no choice. After innumerable inconclusive close-ups of what one commentator called "a face massage", TMO Ed Leszczynski tells Walsh there is evidence of gouging and to issue a red card. This is the same bloke who ruled a number of ludicrous (Dave Rennie's word) decisions in favour of the Rebels a year ago.
Walsh is clearly horrified. He had already told the TMO, "no mate, got it, completely happy," before the intervention. Walsh, in an exemplary display of reffing, was constantly checking on the incident in real time. On watching the big screen he further tells the TMO, "I cannot see evidence of fingers in the eyes." And yet Leszczynski blunders on, completely undermining the authority of the ref and the result of the game.
Horwill said later "I've played 150 professional games of rugby and I've never ever, ever seen that happen before ... ever. It's getting beyond a joke. It's ruining the spectacle of Super Rugby. From my experience of eye gouging, there's a mark. There wasn't a scratch on Higgers."
Jannie Lubbe, the disciplinary officer, upheld the views of Horwill and Walsh and exonerated O'Donoghue who said, "I despise the act of eye-gouging and to think my name is linked with it after a little wrestle around the ruck sickens me." We await Lyndon Bray's action against Leszczynski.
In the game between the Crusaders and the Sharks, again play was called back after a penalty had been awarded and the defending team had cleared its lines. This annulment of live action is making a farce of the game. What if a side slots that initial penalty, three points are awarded, and the opposition kicks off - do you call back play then?
Of course the decision to send off Jean Deysel for treading on Jordan Taufua's face was correct, but why did the TMO and ref not take further action? Why was Taufua not given a yellow card for a blatant professional foul?
One of many problems with the TMO is it tends to magnify one incident disproportionately. There is no excuse for what Deysel did. Jake White said that. Deysel will receive a lengthy ban.
But the bloke who shoots a robber after his house is burgled 12 times is not acting in a vacuum. Now I know Crusaders fans think I have a down on them, but nothing could be further from the truth. I admired the rugby with which they whacked the Sharks at Twickenham three years ago and yearn for more of it.
But please stop cheating and calling it professionalism. After a Hurricanes try was correctly disallowed because Ash Dixon was holding onto Aaron Smith, Ian Jones said, "We've seen so much off-the-ball play, especially in New Zealand competition, I think it's a great call."
I went through the Canes versus Highlanders game looking for holding or blocking off the ball and the Dixon incident was the only one I could find.
In contrast I found nine incidents of the Crusaders illegally playing the man without the ball in the opening 60 minutes of a far less fluid game. They were penalised once. Yet when the Sharks' Willem Alberts tackled a man without the ball, he was sent to the bin.
South Africans are apoplectic, but the Crusaders' trick (and the Chiefs') is they do nearly all their most cynical cheating when they are in possession, knowing that gullible officials tend to concentrate on the defending side.
And so Super Rugby stumbles on. One match is decided by the TMO. Another game is won by a team with 14 men because the lot with 15 are too fearful and cynical to play much rugby. Another game is hugely influenced by a ruinous injury list.
People did not seem to notice that the Canes' great run coincided with a blessedly lucky absence of injuries in contrast to the Chiefs and the Blues in the same period. On Friday night the Canes lost their goalkicker and the match as a result. Incidentally, I have no idea why anyone bagged the Phoenix this season. There was a clear statistical correlation between injury and levels of success in the A-league.
And as for the ruck and maul. Sorry, is that the time? Scrap the TMO, coach the refs (as former referee Jonathan Kaplan recently suggested) to pick up the cheats, reduce the number of matches and go back to rucking.
Yeah, I know, fool's paradise. That's why so many of you are turning off.
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