Highlanders beg to differ on controversial ruling
At least Jamie Joseph could manage a wry smile following the Highlanders 32-30 loss to the Crusaders last night.
As he reflected on Patrick Osborne's disallowed try in the final moments of the epic southern derby in Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium, Highlanders coach Joseph was asked if he thought TMO Vinnie Munro was correct in ruling the wing had been forced into touch by Crusaders fullback Israel Dagg.
"I don't know, you make your mind up, boys - it was tough," Joseph said.
When asked if he thought it was a "50-50 decision" Joseph finally let his lips curl in an upward direction.
"I wasn't very good at maths unless it had dollar signs," he laughed. "I don't know . . . The wording I heard was that it hit the touch line and the goal line simultaneously. I didn't see it touch the line. I saw a goal line and I saw a flag."
Initially Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said the decision could have just as easily gone against his team but, after some reflection, he thought Munro had got it right.
"It was bloody lucky. It could have gone either way ... It just so happened there was a s...load on it. I thought it was the right decision."
But the two coaches were unanimous about one thing: they had just witnessed a cracker of a match.
It ended with Dagg covering two men in defence before shifting his attention to Osborne and somehow using his strength and timing to force him into pressing the ball into the bottom of the corner flag.
Munro's decision was just a short chapter in a match chock-full of storylines.
Referee Glen Jackson suffered a cut face after colliding with a player, All Blacks and Crusaders icon Richie McCaw was yellow carded for interference in a ruck, Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa proved why he is the most exciting prospect in New Zealand rugby and Crusaders wing Nemani Nadolo used every gram of his 125kg frame to scatter defenders.
Unlike the previous week, where they went into their shell against a 14-man Sharks side, the Crusaders were more willing to use the ball under the covered stadium.
Nadolo was a constant threat, often beating tacklers and always looking for work.
Tighthead prop Nepo Laulala carried the ball strongly and scored a try along with his fellow bookend Tim Perry - another impressive performer.
While the Crusaders grabbed maximum competition points, the Highlanders were grateful to collect two of their own which keeps them in the playoffs hunt.
"We didn't play our best rugby but we played some of our best stuff towards the end of the game. The boys are okay but the coaches aren't very good," Joseph reflected.
"We made a lot of unforced errors early in the game and at one stage we looked like we could have got a hiding. But I guess that shows the character of the team."
You couldn't help sense the Highlanders took valuable lessons from watching the Crusaders in the loss to the Sharks.
When referee Jackson sin-binned McCaw there was no way the Highlanders were going to take the meek option of kicking for goal. They called for a scrum and were soon raking in the chips following the bold gamble; hooker Ged Robinson tore on to a short pass from halfback Aaron Smith to score and the Highlanders, who had trailed 7-0, began their fightback. Osborne ensured it continued with some brilliant finishing for his try but it was the earlier work of fellow backs Smith, Fekitoa and Ben Smith that helped make it happen.
Earlier the Crusaders, who dominated the opening 10 minutes with multiple ball carries involving tight forwards Laulala and Bird, were finally rewarded with a five-pointer to loose forward Jordan Taufua.
That was some consolation for Nadolo having a try disallowed after TMO Munro ruled a Johnny McNicholl pass went forward.
The crucial turning point for the Crusaders came in the 41st minute, when Perry scored. The visitors never relinquished their lead.
Crusaders 32 (Jordan Taufua, Tim Perry, Nepo Laulala, Nemani Nadolo tries; Colin Slade 3 cons, 2 pens) Highlanders 30 (Ged Robinson, Patrick Osborne, Malakai Fekitoa, Ben Smith tries; Lipa Sopoaga con, pen; Hayden Parker con, pen) HT: 10-12