Venter lets rip at European officials’ rules on possession

Saracens 23 Leinster 25: Saracens frustrated by referees’ interpretation as Sexton gives 2009 champions priceless away win.
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The Independent Online

Having done his bit to sort out the refereeing "shambles" in England last season, Saracens' director of rugby Brendan Venter is now on the warpath in Europe.

And, just as he did in January after a Premiership loss to Leicester, the qualified GP who would like the clinical values of evidence-based medicine applied much more thoroughly across every competition in his other field of employment, chose the aftermath of a defeat to let rip.

The nub of Venter's stinging comments on what he called the "flawed competition" of the Heineken Cup is that the directives on the contest for possession after the tackle are being handled differently by the rest of Europe's referees from those in England.

Here we had France's Christophe Berdos who, according to Venter, should have shown three yellow cards to Leinster in the second half (they had one) and awarded Saracens "50 more penalties" than he did.

A remarkable 30-phase movement in the final play of the match failed to draw either an offence out of Leinster or a winning score for Saracens, who were beaten for the first time in five matches at their occasional Wembley home.

They also lost their fly-half Derick Hougaard to a suspected ruptured Achilles tendon and although Alex Goode moved up to kick four penalties in the closing 25 minutes, he and Saracens were outgunned by Jonathan Sexton, who contributed all Leinster's points including a crucial try in the 52nd minute.

Venter said: "We were definitely the better team by far but we didn't get any rewards. I'll show you 25 situations out there where the ball wasn't quick enough. In England we know exactly what to expect. In Europe maybe we should just go back to kicking everything.

"Rugby is going to die, 100 per cent, and I'll tell you why. The players are so strong and fast and fit. If the International Board don't come up with a way to take the illegalities out of the game, it will not survive. You need [referees] to be better when it comes to our rules," he added. "I asked European Rugby Cup how much effort had gone in to ensuring all the referees were on the same level. They said nothing. That's a disaster. I could have guaranteed you this would happen. We don't have enough systems in place to feed back and show everyone what to do."

The Leinster head coach, Joe Schmidt – a New Zealander with a nice line in dry humour – said his side had struggled to keep the right side of Berdos when it came to sealing the ball off after the tackle.

But Schmidt pinpointed Saracens' mostly unvarying method of attack as their downfall. "I congratulate Saracens in playing with a lot of width and energy," Schmidt said. "But they did play very laterally against us and while they keep the ball for long periods they don't make that many line breaks. If you add up the minutes in possession and the line breaks made, there's a very significant message that Brendan Venter could take as opposed to his 'state of the nation' speeches.

"I think it's difficult with the new interpretations. It was made even tougher because we felt we just couldn't get access to the ball. For one team to have the ball for 30 phases suggests there is no contest."

Schmidt has been an assistant coach with Auckland Blues and, more recently, Clermont Auvergne, whose win over Saracens in last week's first round of Heineken Cup pool matches, allied to this setback, makes the odds heavily against Venter's team progressing.

They played the same style in Clermont, under a Scottish referee, which seems almost masochistic if you accept Venter's take on things. Who knows, in this extremely tough pool in which Racing Metro, having lost 38-22 to Leinster on day one, defeated Clermont 16-9 yesterday, perhaps Saracens have always been part-resigned to a mere sip of Heineken this season; hence the all-out attack. "We'll continue to fight in every game," Venter promised.

Leinster, the 2009 champions, were a class act; Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip battered away at close quarters, and even without the hamstrung Brian O'Driscoll, their defence yielded just one try to Goode after 11 minutes.

They won the aerial battles including a reclaimed kick which led, at top pace and with a rather too simple hand-off by Isa Nacewa on Dave Strettle, to Sexton's try.

The Leinster fly-half also kicked four penalties to two by Hougaard for a 12-11 half-time lead and another two plus the conversion of his try in the second half.

Saracens: A Goode; D Strettle, A Powell (K Ratuvou, 59), B Barritt, C Wyles; D Hougaard (N Cato, 47), R Wigglesworth (De Kock, 47); D Carstens, S Brits, C Nieto, S Borthwick (capt), M Botha (H Smith, 61), J Burger, E Joubert (K Brown, 47), A Saull.

Leinster: R Kearney; S Horgan, L Fitzgerald (F McFadden, 47), G D'Arcy, I Nacewa; J Sexton, E Reddan (I Boss, 57); C Healy (H van der Merwe, 60), R Strauss, M Ross (S Shawe, 77), N Hines, D Toner (L Cullen, 69), S O'Brien, J Heaslip (capt), S Jennings (J Harris-Wright 65-71).

Referee: C Berdos (France).