Black mark for referee

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The Independent Online
New Zealand 15

South Africa 11

This re-run of last year's World Cup final failed to live up to the pre-match hype and it was predictable that the Scottish referee, Ray Megson, became the target for the team's frustrations.

Megson's unwavering insistence of enforcing the laws to the letter was only as much as southern hemisphere rugby sceptics expected. They have seen enough of the Five Nations to know the bitter taste that a cocktail of unimaginative players, coaches and referees can often provide.

Certainly the 45 penalties and free-kicks awarded in this virtual Tri- Nations decider ruined any chance of an open-running game. That the bulk of the criticism came from New Zealand, the eventual winners, only added to the referee's undoubted guilt.

The New Zealand coach, John Hart, refused to take it lightly on Megson even though his side had benefited from a lion's share of penalties to somehow eke out a gutsy if somewhat unlikely win. Hart insisted: "The high penalty count was extremely frustrating. The fact that it went heavily in our favour doesn't really matter. All that those decisions . . .meant was that the game was never really allowed to flow."

Hart was also concerned that Megson had allowed the South African hooker, John Allan, to stay on the field after head-butting the New Zealand captain, Sean Fitzpatrick, in the opening minute. Allan's act of clearly premeditated aggression did at least fire up the Springboks and catch New Zealand completely unawares. Once the recalled Joel Stransky had cancelled out thepenalty by Andrew Mehrtens after the first-minute fracas, the South Africans took over and it was no surprise when they scored a fine try in the 19th minute.

Mark Andrews set up the chance with clean line-out ball. Stransky cleverly switched the play. Japie Mulder and Andrews combined to allow Andre Joubert to score in the corner. But that was only enough to give South Africa an 8-6 half-time lead and as they struggled to come to terms with eccentric refereeing the All Blacks dragged themselves back and edged towards victory.

All South Africa's power meant nothing as New Zealand hung on and three more penalties from Mehrtens carried them home. The South Africans must have wondered just how they had ended up as losers for the second week in succession.

New Zealand: C Cullen (Manawatu); J Wilson (Otago), F Bunce (N Harbour), W Little (N Harbour), J Lomu (Counties); A Mehrtens (Canterbury), J Marshall (Canterbury); O Brown (Auckland), S Fitzpatrick (Auckland), C Dowd (Auckland), R Brooke (Auckland), I Jones (N Harbour), M Jones (Auckland), Z Brooke (Auckland), J Kronfeld (Otago). Replacement: E Rush (N Harbour) for Wilson, 74.

South Africa: A Joubert (Natal); J Small (Natal), J Mulder (Transvaal), B Venter (OFS), P Hendriks (Transvaal); J Stransky (W Province), J Rux (Transvaal); M Hurter (N Transvaal), J Allan (Natal), O du Randt (OFS), M Andrews (Natal), J Ackermann (N Transvaal), F Pienaar (Transvaal), G Teichmann (Natal), R Kruger (N Transvaal). Replacement: J Swart (W Province) for Joubert, 55.

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