Peter Bills: Is South African rugby paranoid, or is someone out to get them?

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The Independent Online

The ranting and raving that has recently been coming out of the South African Rugby Union has been a wonder to behold.

It reminds me very much of my junior school and the constant fights and verbal altercations we had – “it was him Sir”...”No it wasn’t Sir, it was him!”

Is this any way for a distinguished national rugby union to conduct its affairs? Probably not.

Weird allegations of a central conspiracy against coach Peter de Villiers and South African rugby in general have spewed from SARU’s officials in an increasingly demented fashion.

Unfortunately, throwing mud usually means some of it comes back at the thrower, and such has been the case here. SARU’s worldwide reputation has been damaged, not enhanced, by these lunatic claims.

De Villiers says a conspiracy to enhance interest in next year’s World Cup was behind the Springboks’ two defeats in New Zealand. But if he was right, we must surely be told who was ‘in’ on this plot? The referees, the two coaches, which players or which match/SANZAR (South Africa, New Zealand and Australia Rugby) officials?

The predictable charges from SANZAR against de Villiers that followed this rant then brought forth similarly daft public statements from SARU President Oregan Hoskins. His claim that the charge represented “a declaration of war” against South African rugby was risible.

De Villiers has now been cleared by a SANZAR enquiry but the demeaning of South African rugby in public by its own officials was just sad.

Yet having said all that, is it not true that SANZAR plays into the hands of these crazed people at SARU? The decision not to yellow card and then cite All Blacks prop Tony Woodcock for a dangerous and illegal charge into the unguarded back of Australian hooker Saia Faingaa in Christchurch at the weekend, bemused me.

Referees have been waving yellow cards in this Tri-Nations like aircraft workers guiding an Airbus onto its stand. The daftest of all was the previous week’s when Australian wing Drew Mitchell picked up two and therefore a red card from South African official Craig Joubert – one for an innocuous tackle, the second for just knocking the ball out of an opponent’s hand.

Neither act threatened physical injury to anyone. Yet Woodcock’s wild and dangerous charge into a player, a fearsome physical hit that could never have been construed as a tackle because no arms were involved, completely escapes any punishment. Is this justice, is this referees being consistent?

You have to ask, why is it one set of laws seem to apply to New Zealand and another to the other countries? The South Africans are surely entitled to think, ‘had that been our player, he would have been cited and banned’. After all, Bakkies Botha, Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie have all been yellow-carded and subsequently banned so far in this Tri-Nations.

Botha headbutted Jimmy Cowan and rightly suffered a long suspension. The other two were banned for what was called dangerous tackles.

Well, you couldn’t call Woodcock’s wild, illegal assault a tackle, but it was certainly dangerous. Yet South African referee Jonathan Kaplan, who had already warned All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw that there had been too many New Zealand infringements – at one stage NZ had conceded 9 penalties to Australia’s 2 – lamely did nothing, even though he saw Woodcock’s assault.

And still we are invited to assess referees in a sensible, non-dramatic light.

The trouble is, since that happened, there has been a deafening silence from IRB referee co-ordinator Paddy O’Brien about the lack of action. That presumably means he too was not concerned about Woodcock’s dangerous charge.

Had he been, he would surely have taken Kaplan to task, as he did another South African official Cobus Wessels for his error in recommending a yellow card be given to Drew Mitchell the previous week for a dangerous tackle, when it turned out it wasn’t dangerous at all.

So Woodcock’s assault is officially sanctioned by the top referees of the game. Ye Gods, utter mayhem could be on the horizon. And please don’t shout and scream if Bakkies Botha does something similar on the end of year northern hemisphere tour, as people did during that Lions Test match. What was the difference between his assault and Woodcock’s? Very little, I suggest.

Personally, I don’t hold with any conspiracy theories. But Saturday showed us why the South Africans take a different view. The decision not to punish Woodcock merely played into the hands of SARU and added substance to their claims of favouritism.

SANZAR, not to mention the IRB's referees unit, have themselves to blame for that state of affairs.



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