The Crusaders face another crucial match tonight. Last week, columnist Mark Reason raised fans' ire by suggesting they were serial cheats. Today, John Tyler argues that Reason's reasons were unreasonable.
Mark Reason put the Canterbury region firmly off limits for a visit when he pontificated that the Crusaders are serial cheats. He is now first on the list of those we "don't particularly like". Maybe he has even replaced the EQC.
Is he right?
Richie McCaw as captain has the right to communicate with the referee. As is typical of a good captain he uses this option to the best advantage. The suggestion referees may be in awe of Richie might apply to those coming up through the grades, but our first- class refs? Definitely not.
Richie is personable, likeable and intelligent, and these referees have had some years of chatting with him. They, like me, have probably found him to be an engaging, almost slightly understated, gentleman
I flatly do not believe the Crusaders intimidate the referees.
Our club rugby system has ensured up-and-coming whistle- blowers are thrown all the intimidation scenarios known to the collective provincial male rugby player.
Referees in Christchurch still speak of the legendary Brian Arthur, from Sydenham, whose acerbic comments rolled in a flouring of quick wit were a significant part of educating the referees of the day.
Andy Ellis being the nice cop is also nothing new. Mark Reason comes from the land where this started, even to calling the referee "Sir". Not surprisingly it has made its way to us. Many Cantabrians have played in Britain and soon learnt that the Kiwi fallback of "Aw jeez ref" was just not going to cut it.
Our referees have been subjected to this at most levels of local rugby, especially from the lower divisions. Most local referees will have heard the plaintiff cry of Christchurch Old Bangorians' John Mills "Sir, he shouldn't be doing that, should he Sir?" and, of course, the quintessential "Sorry Sir".
Kieran Read looking wide-eyed in amazement and shaking his head. This is Read without frills. His style is uncompromising, exhilarating and is steeped in emotion. Is he then to switch this off between plays? No. Is it intimidation? Not in the slightest.
To carp about Corey Flynn being warned by the ref for appealing too much, and for Luke Romano punching the air when a decision went his way - this is the game. It is hard, physical and there is no prize for second. It is real, not a fiction made all warm and fuzzy by Beatrix Potter. To use these instances as support for a claim of serial cheating is stretching the chewing gum just a bit too far.
It was interesting that Reason went to the words of Sean Fitzpatrick and Michael Lynagh to back him up on the subject of Bryce Lawrence being the referee "most in awe" of the Crusaders. What a nonsense. McCaw, and I expect most top players worth their salt, will know the strengths, weaknesses and any other idiosyncrasies of team members, and the opposition, so why wouldn't an intelligent captain do due diligence on the referee. To suggest McCaw has "the wood on him" confirms nothing more than McCaw has done his homework.
It was interesting that Fitzpatrick's comment was the one Reason used, because Fitzpatrick has a degree with honours in getting the best from referees, well documented during his playing time for Auckland and the All Blacks.
Lynagh was hardly going to say anything else. He is Australian, after all.
To suggest serial cheating around the rucks intimates that we must be doing it week in, week out. If this is the case then the referee panel would have looked at it and the Crusaders would have been penalised off the park, or at least told that this would happen in the referee's pre-game chat. Neither has happened.
McCaw may chance his arm early in the game and an early penalty against him then sets the boundary. He then generally keeps within it.
As for getting into Todd Blackadder for saying it as he sees it - this is just Blackadder's down- the-line, forget-the-fancy- packaging, straight-talking way. If that's what he thinks then that's what he's going to say. Mark Reason has said it as he sees it but has lambasted Todd for doing the same. Charming.
Blackadder has spoken out because he wants consistency in the level of refereeing. He wants the refereeing to be the best it can be.
If it is at a high level then the possibility of the best team winning is enhanced. If it is mediocre and decisions become marginal then in the close games it becomes a raffle. Not a satisfactory scenario. Reason has spoken out for purely selfish reasons.
He is probably bored living in Wairarapa, but being a chip off the old block he knows that only a select few such as McCaw and Blackadder are famous for being favourites of the public.
Ah, but he too wants to be famous so how does he do it - by taking pot shots at those that he will never be able to match.
As an aside my cousin and I used to play cards for Weet-Bix when we were kids. He used to win all the time. I suspect he was a real cereal cheat.
- The Press