Mehrtens: Lash out bad but provocation there

ANDREW MEHRTENS
Last updated 05:00 20/05/2014

Jordan Taufua face stomp

Jordan Taufua
DEAN KOZNIAC/Fairfax NZ
JAWS: Jordan Taufua was left with a sore jaw after a stomping by the Sharks' Jean Deysel.

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OPINION: As much as it pains me to say this, I'm glad the Sharks didn't pay the ultimate price for the early sending-off of loose forward Jean Deysel in their remarkable victory over the Crusaders at the weekend.

Deysel's boot to the head area of Jordan Taufua looked pretty bad, but it raised one of my pet hates - the guy who starts the niggle getting off scot-free.

Proximity to the head is what got the red card, but Taufua, a young talent I rate very highly, was holding on to Deysel for a long time. The way I saw it his foot was on the shoulder area and he pushed down with unfortunate results.

I know there's a safety issue here, but Taufua was the one provoking it, and Deysel, knowing off-the-ball stuff like that is not going to get picked up, made a natural reaction. Don't get me wrong - this is not directed at Taufua at all, who is a player of immense talent who has performed so well this season.

In the context I could have accepted a yellow card, but the red was harsh. Most big all-ins in rugby are caused by annoying little off-the-ball things, and normally the perpetrators escape unpunished, and the bloke who comes in with the retaliation gets nabbed.

Something's just not right about that order of justice.

I'm not supporting taking the law into your own hands, but I've always thought the harshest punishment in these things that escalate should be dished out to the guy who started it all.

On the whole I'm not a big fan of the TMO sticking his beak in, especially when he hasn't been asked to by the referee.

Yes, we've got to be vigilant on foul play, and I support coming down on that off-the-ball niggle but I'm not sure the TMO needs to be a ref. Otherwise it's a bit like the tail wagging the dog.

As much as my heart is always with the Crusaders, I was glad the Sharks didn't suffer too much. Going down to 14 men seemed to concentrate their minds and their collective will. Any rugby fan has to respect that.

Remember the 2003 English team? That was a line in the sand they drew in Wellington when they lost two players to the bin, and they never looked back.

Watching the Sharks battle through the match down a forward, with Francois Steyn called into the scrum, reminded me of my proudest moment packing down on the side of the All Blacks scrum.

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We had a move that put Reuben Thorne in at first receiver to get some go-forward at first phase, and I was the one chosen to lend a hand up front. It's almost like I can stand beside Colin Meads over a beer and talk about the scrum.

Even my brief experience confirmed one thing. It's a beautiful battle in there. People would be astounded if they understood the tactics and technique that goes into it.

It's the game within the game and I've always found it cool to ask front-rowers about it. It also helps them feel like you value them.

Think about it - three guys interlocking with three others in a massive battle of wills and strength, with the locks in the engine room behind. No wonder guys like Mike Cron are so passionate about it.

There were three upsets at the weekend and they all had one thing in common. The Sharks, Highlanders and Cheetahs all won because they gutsed it out and showed great team unity and spirit.

Defence is where that manifests itself most - getting up off the ground quicker, getting enthusiastic about getting back in the defensive line and making gang tackles.

On attack it's the support play off the ball and cleanouts. It's the effort areas.

It gets to a point where teams start enjoying being on defence, crowds respond and it develops a life of its own.

Some of our best moments in the Crusaders back in the day were when we spent 10 minutes on our own line repelling attack after attack. You could feel the excitement building in the crowd and finally there would be a turnover, the line cleared and the lift was enormous.

For the Crusaders that defeat will be a reality check. It also reflects the tightness of this competition, and that you only need to be just a little off your game to be knocked over.

They'll analyse why it went wrong, and will have their KPIs that will give them a pretty good indication. We always had about seven, and we'd set them high but achievable. If we hit four or five we'd normally won the game.

Last Saturday night it's hard to think my old team would have hit any.

- Stuff

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