Expert Witness: Rugby Champs

Date published: September 11 2014

Former Springbok captain Corné Krige reviews the third weekend of the Rugby Championship and looks ahead to Round Four on Saturday.

Former Springbok captain Corné Krige reviews the third weekend of the Rugby Championship and looks ahead to Round Four.

Any discussion of last weekend's play can't take place without addressing referees, and key decisions that went against Argentina and South Africa.

Starting with the Springboks, even though George Clancy has come in for a wave of criticism over his sin-binning of Bryan Habana, Krige believes blaming the loss on the decision is the easy way out.

“When you lose a game like South Africa did and you blame the referee, it seems like sour grapes. That's the same in this case too, because first the Springboks need to blame themselves for some of the mistakes they made,” said Krige.

“If it's a case of choosing between your mistakes and the referees, you'd rather not focus on yourself. It was a shocking decision by George Clancy to send Bryan Habana off and it made a difference at the end. But South Africa have to look at themselves with the penalty at the end.

“There was no reason for Morné Steyn to kick it out that far. The line-out went well all day with Eben Etzebeth and Victor Matfield winning 14/14, so all they had to do was win the ball back and hold out until the end.

“Steyn is the ultimate professional, so I don't think it will affect him long-term. He'll be really hard on himself and the whole of South Africa has been cursing him, but the nature of Test rugby is that you can't sulk for too long. The Boks have an enormous challenge against New Zealand and if you're still thinking about a mistake from the week before, then you're onto a hiding to nothing.”

The bad decisions though are undeniable, not forgetting the alleged high tackle by Duane Vermeulen that also cost the Springboks three points, along with Argentina's disallowed try in Napier.

“The French referees aren't doing themselves any favours at the moment with the Southern Hemisphere teams,” added Krige referencing Romain Poite's controversial display last year.

“What you want from referees is a consistency, which is why Jean de Villiers did well going over before the Habana card and saying the exact same thing had happened to him five minutes beforehand and gone unpunished.

“Be strict both ways, don't over-penalise one side and then don't give anything to the other. If it was a high tackle by Habana then it should have been one on De Villiers.”

Rather than complain, what about a solution. Cutting referees some slack, Krige suggests that to eradicate big mistakes, captains should have the option to review decisions to the TMO.

“With the stakes being so high, what would be great would to be give each captain the option to review like in cricket,” states Krige.

“With so much money and jobs at stake for coaches, it's hugely important we get this right and to a point where players can review those decisions.

“I'm not a conspiracy theories man. What I do believe though is that referees do make genuinely honest mistakes, but those shouldn't cost a team a game if they can be reviewed in some way. Referees don't genuinely cheat because the whole world would see and they'd lose their jobs. It would be stupid.”

The culmination of those events in Perth meant that Habana's 100th cap was an affair to forget for the Springbok wing.

“The loss, not the card, ruined the occasion for him,” underlined Krige.

“I spoke to John Smit and he said that his worst rugby memory was missing a tackle in his 100th Test when New Zealand then scored and won the game.

“You've worked so hard for so many years, putting in everything to reach that point. Bryan will have been really disappointed and it probably took a little bit away of what an amazing achievement it is and what an ambassador he's been for South African rugby.”

Will there, after such a crushing loss, be a comeback from South Africa this weekend against New Zealand?

Given that the Boks haven't won against the All Blacks for three years it's hard to see, but Krige knows what's required to make life for New Zealand difficult – especially taking into account the Springboks' recent scrum problems and the All Blacks uncanny ability to take their opportunities.

“New Zealand still see South Africa as their fiercest competitor, because they can match them physically right from the word go. You have to convert that into pressure and force them into mistakes. They're used to playing fun football, they don't like going backwards.

“Everybody just accepts that the All Blacks will be strong in the scrum, so it wasn't a huge surprise to seem them do well against Argentina.. You always see the Crusaders dominate in Super Rugby. South Africa were a lot better in that area against the Wallabies, but they'll have to take it up another notch this weekend.

“Normally converting opportunities goes hand in hand with confidence. After New Zealand thrashed Australia they had that and just expected to score. South Africa haven't built that up yet.

“The Springboks have a chance; they always have a chance against the All Blacks. But it's going to need a monumental effort to win.”

What about when Australia host Argentina? The Wallabies only won by a single point in the 2013 fixture.

Krige believes that despite losing 28-9 to New Zealand, Daniel Hourcade's side actually proved several people wrong.

“Everybody expected the All Blacks to put 50 points on Argentina, which they didn't do. That shows that Argentina are better than people give them credit for.”

Also, based on the performances of each team's scrum so far and the way the Pumas caused South Africa trouble, Krige thinks the visitors will have a major advantage.

“I think Argentina will fancy themselves against that Australian pack. It's extremely hard to play when the pack are going back at a rate of knots.

“You can still win games, but it's incredibly difficult and demoralising for the rest of the team to see your pack get shunted around.

“I expect Argentina will do that to Australia this weekend and maybe this game is the one and the time has come.”

Rob Horne's try and the conversion from Bernard Foley completed a mad final ten minutes against the Boks for that 24-23 win. Given how ineffective the Wallabies were for large swathes of the match and Clancy's two controversial decisions, luck was certainly on their side.

Even with that in mind though when considering what happened in Perth, Krige still thinks Australia will have enough to get past Argentina – with the wizardry of Folau and others essential.

“Australia were a bit lucky against the Boks. They were under pressure in most areas of the game and apart from the early try by Israel Folau that was the only bit of brilliance that they really put together. South Africa handed the game to them.

“If I was putting money on it though I'd still go with the Wallabies, with the dangerous backs I have.”

Corné Krige played 39 Tests for South Africa, including 18 as captain.