This week we concern ourselves with the case against Bismarck, the Heineken Cup, and innovative disciplinary procedures.
This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the case against Bismarck, the Heineken Cup, and innovative disciplinary procedures…
Another belting physical game between the two best teams in the world, another bout of controversy and calls for 'off with his head' to the referee and too little attention paid to the actual rugby.
I don't think you'll find too many people who would say that New Zealand wouldn't have won anyway (including Heyneke Meyer), nor too many people who would claim that Bismarck du Plessis' first yellow card was not extremely harsh. It was a poor judgement call by Romain Poite and he'll no doubt be dressed down by his own superiors.
But there are three aspects of it nobody is paying heed to – or rather, there are aspects where people are looking at it from the wrong angle and criticizing the wrong people.
First up: the video referee. Poite is unequivocal about what he wants from George Ayoub: “I have a decision on the tackle, but please check if there is any foul play after it,” he says. All those furious at Ayoub for not interfering should recognize, once Poite has asked a question for something specific, IRB protocols say the video referee is not to get involved. So Ayoub could not have said anything about the legality of the tackle – video referees have been roundly slapped on the wrist for interfering out of their scope of responsibility in the past.
Second: here's a thought – if you already have a yellow card, you probably shouldn't raise an elbow driving into contact later in the game and risk another one. This is the highest level of professional sport and you should expect players to be mentally tough enough to accept an injustice and realize they must play the rest of the game accordingly. The first card wouldn't have mattered as much if Du Plessis had not so foolishly earned the second.
Thirdly, and sticking to the theme of mental toughness, five minutes after Du Plessis' first yellow came New Zealand's second try, which was ultimately down to four missed tackles within the space of 60 seconds. Two of them were absolute howlers. South Africa as a team are not well-known for reacting well to perceived injustice and they certainly paid the price here – that the last of the missed tackles was a peculiar forlorn goalkeeper-style dive from Bismarck's brother Jannie did not go unnoticed either. The first yellow card rattled them hard. Meanwhile, New Zealand absorbed the loss to injury of the best fly-half in the world seamlessly.
Anybody who spends a little time among New Zealand's highest level of rugby personnel will tell you: mental toughness is one of the aspects they spend the most time on because it wins them games in moments like these. It's why they are just so clinical when the chances present themselves.
As the light of day becomes colder, the Bok fans should know that they can bemoan the referee all they want, but introspection and some video analysis ought to reveal that New Zealand's principal edge over them is more mental than physical at the moment.
The good news is that if this is corrected, South Africa could legitimately be the best team on the planet.
A further note on the above: Poite has received the second-hardest slamming of all time in the media; second only to the horrific persecution of Bryce Lawrence. His Wikipedia entry was savagely re-written, he's been labelled 'a disgrace', 'ignoramus' and 'an idiot' by various newspapers, columnists and television journalists, even the classy ones.
It would be a lot easier to feel sympathy for the South Africa at times if many of their fans weren't so ugly about things like this – and it is worth noting that the team management and players have been exemplary at keeping their feelings on the subject well-hidden, as well as pointing out that they also made mistakes in the game that cost them just as dearly as Poite's.
So it really is bye bye Heineken Cup. And it really is hello sponsorship money to England and France, bye bye revenue to the Welsh, Scots, Italians and Irish.
Well, perhaps not the Welsh, after Nigel Wray's little carrot inviting them to place their teams in the Premiership… except that would raise the number of Premiership teams to 16, probably not doable in terms of workload so two Premiership teams might be relegated to make way for the Welsh and… does anybody else see any arguments and acrimony looming here?
As a friend remarked earlier in the week as I tried to drown my sorrows at the HEC's demise, “the European Cup will still be there, exactly the same as before, but run by Premier Rugby.”
Ok… good… as long as we get it, ok. Premier Rugby have done a good job on the Premiership, maintaining long-term competitive integrity with the salary cap and managing the commercial side extremely well.
But you can't help but feel it is just not going to be that simple. If a long-term Anglo-French competition is to be viable, it's going to be to the detriment of half the top-tier teams in each of the two countries. Will the French agree to a salary cap or will the English clubs suddenly find themselves unleashed?
If the Welsh join, what does happen to the Irish, Scottish and Italians – indeed, given Italy's comparative weakness still, is there still a chance for them to be involved? Is this now the end of the English and French national championships altogether?
So many questions and so little time. Nobody really coming forth with answers, lots of people playing media games… and meanwhile, the most enjoyable competition European rugby has ever had kicks off in five weeks' time when the Ospreys play Leinster, Ulster take on Leicester and Munster travel to Edinburgh. A week later Leinster play Castres, Cardiff-Toulon, Saracens-Toulouse and Munster-Gloucester.
European rugby fans just want to see this every year – after all that waffle about making sure the fans get what they want to see, dear administrators, are you really going to go ahead and do our best to tear it apart for a few extra pence?
To hell with the lot of you. Give us back the best of European rugby.
Back to discipline. There are yellow cards, red cards, black marks… but goodness knows what they call the scar from the latest disciplinary measure doing the rounds in Toulon.
Tell this one as it is: lateness for training is afforded the punishment of being shot by a BB gun. Matt Giteau was the first recipient, posting a video on his twitter account to show people the tough times to be had in the south of France (note: the sun is shining a lot).
Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson