Springboks ride the storm

Owen Slot in Durban examines the central role of the man in charge
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WHEN can a referee have ever been under the sort of pressure that Derek Bevan was yesterday? Should he have awarded an injury time penalty try against South Africa and thus given the match to France? And had he done so, would he have got out of the country alive?

South Africa's fate was in Bevan's hands from the start. When the tournament organisers decided to delay the kick-off, they agreed that if it rained again before the start, the match would be postponed by 24 hours. But once the game was under way, the decision was Bevan's. After 10 minutes, the heavens opened once more; had he abandoned the contest, South Africa would have been the losers. No tries had been scored, so the Springboks would have gone out of the tournament because they have had more players than France sent off in the tournament.

Bevan allowed the match to continue, and it was played out in terrible conditions. "At times I thought we were playing on King's Beach and not King's Park," said Kitch Christie, the South African coach, afterwards. "We would have preferred lighter conditions," said Francois Pienaar, the South African captain, "but I don't care now."

Pierre Berbizier, the French coach, was gracious in defeat. "The conditions were the same for both sides," he said, endorsing all that Bevan had done, even in those final minutes when Abdel Benazzi charged forward, Marc Cecillon drove towards the South African line and no try was given. He had finished 12 inches short. "That was the difference between being in the final and not," said Pienaar. "But we still had a lot of work to do."

Indeed they did. Three five- yard scrums were given, all of them collapsed, and Bevan chose not to penalise South Africa and thus award France the victory. The South African pack was indeed going backwards, but the French never got close enough to justify a penalty try.

"We had them," Pienaar said. "I felt that they went down." Soon after, it was the French World Cup camapign that had collapsed. And Derek Bevan's safe passage was asssured.