The long history of South African teams being done in by the incompetence and, let’s be honest, the one-eyed approach of Australasian match officials took another turn for the worse on Friday as the DHL Stormers were beaten 30-21 by the Rebels in a Vodacom Super Rugby match in Melbourne.
Referee Mike Fraser made some poor calls throughout, as has become an expected habit in Super Rugby, and you could well ask when last a referee actually got something right.
But he wasn’t helped by what can only be termed a diabolical decision by the TMO, one of countless that have gone the Rebels’ way in recent matches played on their home ground, and also not unlike the one that cost the Bulls in Brisbane before that.
Hooker Martin Bezuidehout did hold back a Rebels player as the ball was toed through into the Stormers’ in-goal area, but before that there was a knock-on by the Rebels and there should have been a scrum to the Stormers.
And the call by the TMO that “there was a probability that a try would have been scored” - well, if that was the case, then there are countless situations every week where a penalty try should be awarded.
In Fraser's defence, even he sounded a bit confounded when that call came through to him.
Bryan Habana, probably the quickest player on the field, was back to dot the ball down, and probably would have been regardless of whether the Rebels player was held back.
Yes, given that the TMO was too incompetent to spot the knock-on, the subsequent play did justify a penalty as well as a yellow card. But a penalty try? Not in four months of frosty Sundays.
It’s been a tough tour for the Stormers in terms of the rank poor officiating they have had to deal with, and Steve Walsh and the assistant referees who officiated in the tour opener in Palmerston North should have been suspended for their shocking display there.
Instead the Stormers got dragged through two weeks of drama before being slapped with a R225 000 fine for verbal abuse, which is more money than some top fraudsters are asked to part with by the courts.
Maybe the Stormers deserved to part with that money and maybe they didn’t, but the Sanzar demand that everyone involved be denied the opportunity to talk about it only serves to fuel the view that the South African teams are victims of bias.
TWO NATIONS GANGING UP AGAINST ONE
They know after the whole Bryce Lawrence fiasco in 2011 that it will just be denied and swept under the carpet, but it is time for South African administrators to make it clear they’ve had enough of the situation where it’s two nations ganging up against one.
What does this have to do with the Melbourne game? Well maybe nothing, or maybe everything. The point is that it’s perhaps time to stop turning blind eyes to what may be an injustice that is being served, and which has been for many years.
Of course if you make the point that the Stormers have only themselves to blame for this defeat you would also be right.
They say the first sign of madness is when you try something and it doesn’t work and you keep trying it again and again, and on Friday the Stormers just kept turning down kickable penalties in favour of the lineout. And on each occasion it didn’t work.
Yes, the Stormers were looking for four tries, but they also needed to win the game for those four tries to be worth anything to them.
And if you open a gap on the scoreboard, which they would have done had they taken the kicks, it means the opposing team has to play more, and thus presents you with more opportunities.
The Stormers did score three tries, and their third came with more than a quarter of the game still remaining, so there was plenty of opportunity to get their fourth.
A bit more composure, and that would have been helped by them keeping the scoreboard ticking over, would have suited their purpose far more than the approach they did take.
The Stormers were the better team once they had come back from an early 10-point deficit, but how often have you heard that before.
SAME OLD STORY
It was the same old story for the Stormers – although they tried more, and did play a lot more off the flyhalf than they have been doing, they were blighted by elementary handling errors that just kept preventing them from creating and converting opportunities.
The Stormers’ problems in that regard started early. They built up strongly in the early minutes, and the way the backs were running into space would have been hugely encouraging to the Stormers’ fans back home.
But they let themselves down with handling errors, and instead of the Stormers scoring first, it was the Rebels who drew first blood through a penalty from fullback Jason Woodward.
And they increased the lead in the 11th minute after a confident surge upfield saw Scott Higginbotham swivel his way over for the first try of the match, which Woodward converted.
But the Stormers struck back quickly after that, with scrumhalf Louis Schreuder exploiting poor defence from the Rebels by scoring a fine individualistic try off the back of a solid scrum in the 15th minute, and then there was a brilliant break from lock Eben Etzebeth in the 28th minute and a short pass put Bryan Habana in for the try that gave the Stormers a 14-10 lead.
Woodward kicked another penalty late in the half to make it 14-13 at halftime, but in the third quarter it was all the Stormers and that really was when they should have wrapped it up.
Then there wouldn’t have been any need to lament questionable TMO officiating, something that was apparent when the Rebels played the Chiefs a few weeks ago.
The Stormers' locks, Etzebeth and Andries Bekker, were the best players on the field, and they combined out on the left after an initial thrust to the Rebels line by Habana was only just held, but the ball was recycled quickly to put Bekker in for the try.
But the Stormers had fallen behind to a Hugh Pyle try in the 54th minute that came against the run of play.
Then came those final crazy minutes, and after the penalty try was awarded, Woodward was able to kick a long-range penalty that even denied the Stormers a bonus point.
There can be no denying that the Stormers conspired against themselves, but there can also be no denying that, not for the first time this season, they were also robbed.
Rebels – Tries: Scott Higginbotham, Hugh Pyle, penalty try. Conversions: Jason Woodward (3). Penalties: Woodward (3).
DHL Stormers – Tries: Louis Schreuder, Bryan Habana, Andries Bekker. Conversions: Joe Pietersen (3).