There were 15 South Africans more influential than Kaplan
Jonathan Kaplan did not cost the Queensland Reds a chance of victory against the Sharks on Saturday night. In the build-up to the match, there had been a fair bit of grumbling about the appointment of the referees.
In fact, so much so that there was an element of self-fulfilling prophecy when the boos started to ring out around Suncorp Stadium.
Fans on the wrong end of the result are easily persuaded to feel hard done by.
The Sharks are South African, Kaplan is South African.
Therefore, Kaplan officiated in a manner to ensure the South Africans progressed. It is ropey logic.
And supporters being what they are it is certain that if you asked enough questions in the Republic you would uncover Sharks fans who would swear blind that Kaplan has been ruling against them in Currie Cup for years.
Did the whistle-blower make mistakes? Which one doesn’t?
The nature of the question in the lead-up to Liam Gill’s ‘no try’ ruling made it difficult for the TMO to award a try.
Also, there was a lack of clarity in the conversations he had with Sharks captain Keegan Daniel in relation to repeat offences inside the Sharks’ 22.
The disincentive to infringe further might not have been expressed strongly enough in those chats, and most observers would have been surprised that JP Pietersen was allowed to remain on the paddock after he petulantly kicked the ball away with the Reds on attack.
The Sharks could have easily been down to 14 men earlier than they were, but even this wasn’t inconsistent with Kaplan’s recent work.
Against the Highlanders two weeks ago, the Reds actually conceded one more penalty in their own 22 than the Sharks (8 to 7), but Kaplan kept all 15 Queenslanders on the paddock.
And the disputable calls were not one-way traffic against the Reds. Kaplan missed, at least, two forward passes from the Reds, who are the competition leaders in this field.
Will Genia was also permitted to walk around one Sharks defensive scrum and tackle Charl McLeod from an offside position, pressuring him enough to cause the Sharks No.9 to fire a wild pass beyond his own in-goal area.
Kaplan also showed some leniency in an area that has become a blight on the modern game – holding the defensive player at, and beyond, the ruck.
The repeat offender on this occasion was Rob Simmons. (All teams do it but there are some who are more familiar with it than others – I’ll let you come to your own conclusions about their identities.)
Yet you could go through every game of rugby ever played and pick out a litany of similar judgment calls that go one way or another.
And apart from completely draining the joy out of sport, it undermines the concept of merit.
The Sharks deserved to win on Saturday night, unquestionably.
They were 20 points up until Radike Samo’s late try. Would a score to Gill have changed the outcome of the game? Not with the visitors winning every breakdown and disturbing the raw Nick Frisby, with Genia inexplicably stationed at No.10.
In the first 30 minutes they did against the Reds what the Queenslanders did against sides in 2011 – they tore them apart. All the big performers were wearing the black of the visitors, all the big collisions won by players such as Willem Alberts, Ryan Kankowski, Anton Bresler and Marcell Coetzee.
Even when the Reds camped in their 22 in the second half the Sharks’ big men were lining up for the next heavy defensive contact.
They are a well conditioned side.
Even more impressively, the offloads stuck.
Some in the Suncorp Stadium crowd reported that they could barely catch a ball in the warm-up but the handling during the game was quite outstanding, and not what we have come to expect from past South Africa sides. And that neatly sums up where the Reds, and the Australian conference, are at the end of the 2012 season.
While others clearly went away at the end of 2011 to re-examine their game, identify weaknesses and borrow ideas where needed (a number of Genia-style running halfbacks have emerged to brighten some NZ sides) only the Brumbies among the Australian outfits have progressed in 2012.
Stand still for a second in this brilliant and unforgiving competition, and you’ll quickly be overtaken.
My Super Rugby team of the season: 15. Andre Taylor (Hurricanes), 14. JP Pietersen (Sharks), 13. Conrad Smith (Hurricanes) 12. Sonny Bill Williams (Chiefs), 11. Julian Savea (Hurricanes), 10. Aaron Cruden (Chiefs), 9. Will Genia (Reds), 8. Kieran Read (Crusaders), 7 Siya Kolisi (Stormers), 6. Marcell Coetzee (Sharks), 5 Brodie Retallick (Chiefs), 4. Eben Etzebeth (Stormers), 3. Owen Franks (Crusaders), 2. Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks), 1. Sona Taumalolo (Chiefs)
Paul Cully is a freelance journalist who was born in New Zealand, raised in Northern Ireland, but spent most of his working life in Australia. He is a former Sun-Herald sports editor, rugby tragic, and current Roar and RugbyHeaven contributor.