If you can set your clocks and watches by the World Cup - every four years, at the most inconvenient point in the calendar from everyone's perspective except the Australians' - you can also set them by the first row over disciplinary decisions. It always takes place in the opening fortnight of the tournament, and it always involves teams who, for one reason or another, feel the system is about as fair and equal as the application procedure for Eton.
Yesterday, the Springboks were bristling over the failure of the tournament's citing unit to take action against Lawrence Dallaglio, the England No 8, whose blatant punch on the South African wing Thinus Delport during the closing stages of Saturday's match here has gone unpunished.
Senior Springbok officials, including the manager, Gideon Sam, and the operations manager, Mac Hendricks, expressed concern over the incident, which left Delport with five stitches in a wound above his left eye and ruled him out of contention for Friday's game with Georgia in Sydney.
The notoriously outspoken coach of Namibia, Dave Waterston, put himself on the wrong side of the tournament officials by daring to suggest that, while the referees were quick to penalise the competition's no-hopers, they were less than enthusiastic when it came to sorting out the major powers.
"The tragedy is that if you're a referee and you want the big appointments, you have to lick the backsides of the top nations," Waterston said, with his usual poetic charm. A World Cup spokesman described the remark as "unacceptable" and said Waterston could expect a formal ear-wigging.
He was incensed at an incident during his team's match with Ireland on Sunday, when the Munster lock Paul O'Connell repeatedly planted his boots with considerable force on the prone figure of his opposite number, Archie Graham, at a driving maul. O'Connell was warned by the referee, Andrew Cole, of Australia, but not sent to the sin-bin. As the 24-hour deadline for a citing drew near, the silence from the disciplinary staff was deafening.
Needless to say, both Dallaglio and O'Connell put forward mitigating circumstances. The Englishman claimed Delport's hand was on his face, and therefore felt honour-bound to "give him a slap". O'Connell insisted he did not know Graham was on the floor when contact was made. Presumably, he thought the ground was unusually lumpy.
Neither incident was especially offensive; they were not in the same league as Rupeni Caucaunibuca's astonishing assault on Olivier Magne during the Fiji-France game - an explosion of raw anger that earned the brilliant Pacific Islander a two-match ban. But the World Cup administrators would do well to heed the various concerns expressed yesterday.
South Africa, still smarting from the wave of criticism that surged in their direction after the violent match with England at Twickenham 11 months ago, are now openly wondering if one of their players would have escaped censure for a Dallaglio-style "slap". For their part, Namibia feel betrayed by what they consider to be "one law for the rich, another for the poor".
The England coach, Clive Woodward, entered gleefully into a new round of public banter with the vast army of Australian pundits, all of whom criticised the quality of the red rose performance against the Boks, despite the final scoreline. "I would like to keep reminding everyone that Test rugby is about winning," Woodward said, clearly not fearing for a second that his words might make him a hostage to fortune at some point in the near future. "I think it's fantastic. Every morning when I get up, I find the papers more and more amusing."Reuse content