Bulls grab crucial away win

Date published: March 20 2009

The Bulls have grabbed an away win on the first leg of their Australasian tour, beating the Hurricanes 19-7 in Wellington on Friday.

The Bulls have grabbed an away win on the first leg of their Australasian tour, beating the Hurricanes 19-14 in Wellington on Friday.

This would have been a good game. The teams came out in the first three minutes with plenty of intent – indeed the first two minutes didn't feature a stoppage as both teams tried to run the ball.

It was not a good game. It was a dog's dinner of a game by half time and turned into a dog's fully digested dinner of a game by midway through the second half.

A combination of the ridiculous ELVs and a ridiculous display of officialdom by Matt Goddard conspired to utterly ruin any semblance of structure or shape from the two teams, with the indiscriminate nature of free-kick/penalty awards costing the Hurricanes dear.

The home side had conceded 12 penalties by the 54th minute, a staggering statistic for a game that is supposed to have been shorn of penalties by the new laws. They had also had three men sent to the sin-bin.

But to give you an idea of the skew interpretations: the Bulls had conceded only three penalties by this point. Yet they had had a man sent off and two sent to the bin. How can that possibly tally?

Well, it's because the Hurricanes were penalised all the time, while the Bulls conceded mostly free-kicks for similar offences. That is not entirely Goddard's fault, but the new laws which give the referee the choice as to what sanction to award for a technical offence leave him open to such accusations. Wide open.

Goddard said a quite apt sentence during the match. After he had sent Scott Waldrom to the bin for a perfectly legal manoeuvre, he declared: “I am going to open this game up.” Teams open games up, not referees. Later he re-asserted: “In case you hadn't noticed, I am not going to let up here.” Thanks a lot, both for the patronising sarcasm and the statement of the bleeding obvious. If you were a player faced with that kind of attitude, would you be encouraged to play?

What eventually happened was that both teams were so terrified of going into a ruck that the defences strung themselves impenetrably across the park, rendering a hitherto scrappy game utterly boring.

If Goddard had wanted to open the game up, he should have let the teams sort out their own problems instead of whistling them to death and sending them off at every opportunity.

But let up on Goddard for a moment, for technically he was right more often than not, even if common sense was left in his changing room.

The biggest problem, the one that will never go away while SANZAR continue to push forward their own agenda at the cost of all others , was the ludicrous sanctions ELV that punishes cynicism with free-kicks only and heaps pressure on the referee to whistle even the most minor technical offence.

Goddard was desperate to open it up because his employers pile pressure on referees to do that. If the only way he can think of to do that is to whistle a game to death, well, that's his problem.

But the whole asinine artificial concept of 'making' every game open and stacked full of tries causes that problem. You just can't do it. The game has too many tactical nuances to fall for such cheap tricks – it's time SANZAR, and by extension the IRB, realise this. We'll see on May 1.

Back to the game. The yellow cards are in detail below and need little expansion. There had been warnings, but only Jason Eaton's rucking off the ball of Bakkies Botha and Pedrie Wannanberg's blatant offside were deserved. Inexplicably in the context of it all, a nasty high tackle from Ma'a Nonu went unpunished.

Fully deserved was the red card for Deon Stegmann, who executed a textbook spear tackle on Conrad Smith: lifted, turned, driven downwards head first. Goddard said that Stegmann's red card was for a second yellow, a pathetic cop-out.

The tackle was unquestionably a straight red card, what will follow must also be heavily scrutinised. If Stegmann is not banned for a considerable length of time – the rest of the Super 14 should not be discounted as an option – the lawmakers and power corridor-strollers of SANZAR will be further discredited as competent sporting administrators.

Morne Steyn landed four of the stream of penalties that flowed his way.

Two of those were before a super solo try from Tamati Ellison in the 15th minute; Ellison taking the ball at pace and stepping his way through two lines of defence (and some limp tackling).

Steyn landed two more penalties, one before half-time and one a minute after it – that one for the harshest yellow card of the lot. Poor Scott Waldrom did well to hold his temper in check as he was dispatched, but he and all around him were pleading with Goddard to live and let live.

Instead, Goddard kept up his tirade and players got frustrated. Bakkies Botha's borderline late hits went completely unnoticed, a travesty considering what others were being whistled for. Eaton's yellow card was out of sheer frustration.

And his team gave up. Unable to contest the breakdown, unable to draw Bulls defenders into rucks, they had no possible avenue of attack up front and none out wide either. They were comprehensively whistled out of the game. Morne Steyn played a perfect territorial kicking game – the by-product of Goddard's determination to 'open the game up'.

The Bulls tight five got the upper hand in the set piece and rucks and eventually the pressure told, with JP Nel finishing off a rare moment of fluidity, a play that lasted more than three phases and was not interrupted by the infuriating Goddard's whistle.

Eaton did nick a try at the death, and a bonus point as the Bulls relaxed. Scant consolation for the home side and home fans who made their disgust at the laws and referee known. it could be an interesting post-match!

Man of the match: In the Hurricanes' faces all night long and playing the referee perfectly was Bakkies Botha with a super performance.

The scorers:

For the Hurricanes:
Ellison, Eaton
Cons: Weepu 2

For the Bulls:
Con: Steyn
Pens: Steyn 4

Yellow cards: Wannenburg (Bulls, 20, entering in the side), Nonu (Hurricanes, 29, high tackle), Stegmann (Bulls, 36, playing the ball on the ground), Waldrom (Hurricanes, 41, playing the ball on the ground), Eaton (51, Hurricanes, rucking an opponent)

Red card: Stegmann (Bulls, 49, spear tackle – second yellow card)

Hurricanes: 15 Tamati Ellison, 14 Zac Guildford , 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu , 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Piri Weepu, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Rodney So'oialo (c), 7 Scott Waldrom, 6 Karl Lowe, 5 Jason Eaton / Bryn Evans, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 John Schwalger.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Jacob Ellison , 18 Bryn Evans / Api Naikatini, 19 Faifili Levave , 20 Willie Ripia , 21 Jason Kawau , 22 David Smith.

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JP Nel, 12