Peter Bills: Venter rant is a smokescreen

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The Independent Online

Brendan Venter's weekend outburst against referees in England's Guinness Premiership, revealed a lot about the man.

The South African raged at what he saw as a series of injustices in the second half of Saracens' game against Leicester. He slammed English referee David Rose, even alleging that “something happened” to the official during the half time interval, as if someone had had a word in his ear. The Rugby Football Union is right to take him to task for his outburst.

Venter is under serious pressure in a big pressure job. But he is no fool, prone to emotional explosions. Rather, he is a cool, calculating figure who plans most things down to a tee. Thus, his outburst after Saracens' second successive defeat should be regarded in that light. To me, it didn't add up, other factors were involved.

I believe Venter's criticisms were a smokescreen. Sure, referees can always be a source of frustration. But that is nothing new. They make some bizarre decisions but Venter has been in the game long enough to know that. Nor are English officials any worse or better than their counterparts in countries all around the world. Look at the paucity of top referees in Australia at the moment.

Referees do their best, and very often they slip below the standards you would expect in a professional game. But what's new about that? It didn't need Venter's outburst to tell us that.

So I'm not convinced all this was any spur of the moment outburst from Venter. To me, he's too clever to fall into that sort of pit unknowingly. I suggest there was another reason for his rant.

The issue of referees was a convenient scapegoat to try and throw some of the media hounds and spectators well off the trail of the fact that Venter has produced one of the most boring rugby teams in England. Since last summer, he's put together a heavy, lumbering pack of forwards and a couple of kicking outside halves to complete his game plan. It's mind-numbingly boring to watch.

All Saracens do is try to win the ball, drive it up around the fringes or kick for position, attack the opposition, try to force mistakes through pressure and kick penalty goals from resulting offences, or kick for territory and try to drop goals. There isn't one iota of individualism, ingenuity or innovative, spur-of-the-moment decision making in their make-up.

It's desperate stuff, a dire advertisement for the sport and if this is the way to play the modern game, then rugby we once knew and loved is dead and buried.

We are surely entitled to ask, if referees are killing the game, how come we saw such a stunning example of 15-man rugby from New Zealand in beating France by 39 points and 5 tries to nil in Marseille back in November? As far as I'm aware, a referee was in charge of that game. I'll tell you the difference – the contrasting philosophies and approaches of the two coaches, Graham Henry and Brendan Venter.

The official scoring statistics for Saracens this season condemn Venter and his blinkered approach. Of their 409 points, 259 have been from kicks. 30 tries in 20 matches, 20 conversions, 62 penalty goals and 11 dropped goals. That's a whopping 63 per cent of their points from kicks, a clear indictment of Venter's methods.

Saturday's 15 points against Leicester again came from, predictably, five penalty goals. This guy has banished the pleasure from the game. So for him to say the “lottery of referees' decision making” is killing the game, is at best disingenuous and at worst, a complete abrogation of the truth.

If, as he claims, the game is being killed, he should look in his own backyard for the cause. Coaches such as him, who like their teams to play in a straight-jacket, where individuals are pre-programmed like robots.