10 Aug

Luck or favouritism?
by Tracey Nelson
10 Aug 2010

Did the Bledisloe test in Christchurch confirm the accusations thrown about by Springbok coach Peter de Villiers and former Wallaby coach Bob Dwyer in the past two weeks? Are the All Blacks getting favours from the referees?

Certainly if you compare the five TriNations test matches already completed there seem to be some rather glaring irregularities when it comes to the dishing out of penalties and yellow cards. The test match in Christchurch was the first of the five that saw 30 players remain on the field for the full 80 minutes, and yet there was an incident in that game which – going on incidents in the previous four – should have resulted in a yellow card.

The incident in question was in the second half when All Black prop Tony Woodcock led with the shoulder and deliberately charged into the back of Wallaby hooker Sai Faingaa as he was attempting to get up from the ground after rolling clear from a ruck. The entire stadium held its collective breath as the replay was shown on the big screen and referee Jonathon Kaplan signalled Woodcock and his captain McCaw over for a chat.

But instead of the expected yellow card, all Kaplan did was admonish Woodcock, give him a warning of "no more" and award a penalty to the Wallabies. This, after the yellow card Springbok lock Danie Rossouw received for simply pushing McCaw’s cheek and then exchanging half-hearted shoves three weeks earlier in Wellington – supposedly foul play. Equally, the first yelllow card Wallably winger Drew Mitchell received in Melbourne was for a marginally late two handed push on the chest of McCaw after he had passed the ball that was inexplicably deeemed a shoulder charge.

So if the Mitchell shove was deemed bad enough to warrant a yellow card, how did Woodcock get away with not only no yellow card, but also no citing after the game? If – and it’s a very dodgy "if" – Kaplan was under orders not to dish out yellow cards in all but the most serious offences, there should at least been a trip to the judiciary for an act that ticks the boxes under Law 10, Foul Play in the IRB lawbook:

Law 10.4 (f) Playing an opponent without the ball. Except in a scrum, ruck or maul, a player must not hold, or push, or charge into, or obstruct an opponent not carrying the ball.

The one thing we ask from referees is consistency, both during a game and across games. Up until the test match in Christchurch a very firm line had been drawn in the sand by the game’s top referees that foul play and constant offending would be dealt with the use of yellow cards. Suddenly there was an about face, and this time it went in favour of the All Blacks, not just during the game itself but also afterwards when the citing commissioner felt that there was no case to be tried.

If Paddy O’Brien (IRB head of referees) was offended that his personal integrity was questioned by Bob Dwyer after the Melbourne test, then he needs to front up this week and explain why his top referee decided not to yellow card Woodcock. More importantly, for the integrity of the game itself, he also needs to give a very good reason why there was no citing for that incident after the test.

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