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The Wrap: It’s all about the rugby FFS

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26th May, 2019
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Yes that’s right, for this week at least, you are safe to enter. Today’s column is a Folau-Free Segment.

Well almost. With Folau now separated from his employer Rugby Australia, ‘separation’ formed a big part of the post-game discussion of the Chiefs versus Reds match in Hamilton, after Chiefs winger Etene Nanai-Seturo was denied a try by TMO Glenn Newman.

Much to the amazement of the Chiefs, their home crowd and referee Angus Gardner, who thought Newman was merely checking the touchline, Newman instead found that Nanai-Seturo had dropped the ball in the act of scoring, adding this one to the two disallowed Reds tries at the other end.

Only a week after TMO Marius Van der Westhuizen was found by SANZAAR to have ruled incorrectly against the Crusaders in Cape Town, the last thing needed was more TMO controversy, yet this was further evidence that SANZAAR’s officials seem unable to achieve consistency in their processes.

At normal speed this looked like a clear try, and while slow-motion replays showed that the plant wasn’t clean, Nanai-Seturo appeared to apply downwards pressure with his wrist, simultaneous with the ball touching the ground, thereby fulfilling the requirements of law 21.1.b. with respect to grounding the ball in goal.

Immediately ‘separation’ became the buzz-word among sharp-eyed observers – which is particularly interesting given that there is no mention of that word in the relevant section of rugby’s law book. Simply, the laws of the game do not require the scoring player to retain possession of the ball in his hands or fingers throughout the scoring process, without so-called separation.

And most certainly, rugby’s law book wasn’t written with the intent of allowing TMOs to slow vision down to a frame-by-frame basis, to determine microscopic separation between ball and fingers.

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In that context, Newman’s involvement was out of line, because referee Gardner had announced himself happy with the grounding, and on the evidence presented, Newman could hardly be said to possess ‘clear and obvious’ reason to overturn the decision.

But hang on a minute.

It was revealed yesterday that Newman did in fact have compelling evidence to deny the try, because he had access to a side-on view that nobody else at the ground or on TV was shown.

In this picture, the ball is shown to be on the ground, momentarily before Nanai-Seturo forced it with his wrist. And that constituted a knock-on in goal.

Either way, there is an issue. If Newman was in fact right, then the process logistics are wrong. Commentators, coaches, the referee and fans at the ground and at home, must be able to see the same vision that the TMO is seeing.

Last year in Brisbane, Ireland were denied a match-winning try to Keiran Marmion after TMO Van der Westhuizen spotted a knock-on using vision that was available to him only. As a result, controversy and conspiracy theories reigned – understandably – with everyone effectively kept in the dark.

Unlike some of rugby’s subjective officiating conundrums, this one should be an easy fix. Either restrict the TMO to the same pictures everyone else is viewing, or else apply the Meg Ryan principle, “I’ll have what the TMO’s having”, and make sure that the right buttons are pushed.

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The rest of the match was a statistician’s dream, the Chiefs being forced to make an incredible 257 tackles to eke out their 19-13 victory – although it must be said that in doing so, they weren’t required to guess at where the Reds’ next attack was coming from.

Brad Thorn

Reds coach Brad Thorn (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The key stat was the Chiefs’ eight defensive turnovers, three of which were steals made by Lachlan Boshier within a metre of his own try-line. Desperate, backs-to-the-wall wins always do wonders for a team’s spirit and psyche, although it will come too late to provide the Chiefs with a play-off spot this year.

As for the Reds, their ball control in the second half was admirable, yet they find themselves in the same basket as the Blues – demonstrable improvement over previous seasons, but yet to develop the hard-nosed experience and consistency to convert that into a sufficient number of wins.

The Brumbies continued their upwards trajectory with a convincing 22-10 win over the Bulls, not allowing the visitors to dictate at any point, and finishing off their opportunities with some style.

After starring at NRC level it was great to finally see Irae Simone carry that form into Super Rugby, in what was comfortably his best performance in a Brumbies jumper.

The Rebels kept within touch of the Brumbies on the ladder with their most commanding performance of the season, a 52-7 thumping of the Sunwolves. In recent weeks the Rebels have struggled with the physicality and abrasiveness of the South African sides, but here in Tokyo they enjoyed the extra freedom allowed them, with their back three delivering five of their seven tries.

Reece Hodge

Reece Hodge of the Rebels (Photo by Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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As disappointing as the Sunwolves were, the game simply wasn’t handed over to the Rebels on a plate. Recognising that the Sunwolves are always dangerous at home if allowed space and momentum, stand-in hooker Hugh Roach, and Richard Hardwick led the charge, ensuring that energy levels remained high, and as dominant as the Rebels’ set piece was, it was their defensive intensity and accuracy that laid the foundation.

The Crusaders were made to work hard for their 19-11 win over the Blues. It’s been a difficult year for rugby tipping, but I’d suggest that it was an odds-on bet that they all went home early, afterwards.

Two years ago I sat down with Agustin Creevy in Melbourne, where he explained how he felt that unrealistic expectations had been placed on the Jaguares, simply because the squad contained a high number of Pumas.

He was frustrated because people didn’t realise how difficult it is to play in two separate jerseys, within two very different competitions, with different demands from different coaches – what he described as “two essences” – and he insisted that it would take more time for all of the players and coaching staff to adjust to and overcome that.

It would appear that this has finally been achieved, the Jaguares’ solid 23-15 win over the Waratahs, and consistent performances, placing them in top spot in the South African conference, and striking distance of a home final.

Despite enjoying a wealth of possession, the Jaguares’ patience was tested in the first half by the Waratahs organisation and accuracy in defence. But unlike in past years, there were no toys thrown out of the cot, and the visitors continued to move the ball around strategically, until a weak point was finally found in the defence.

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Winger Ramiro Moyana was the beneficiary, showing sharp pace to score two tries, either side of halftime. Not content with the secret handshakes or ‘flapping fins’ favoured by other teams, Moyano’s try-scoring celebration consists of him sucking his thumb – apparently because he has recently had a baby, not, it seems, as a gesture of derision at Kurtley Beale’s feeble attempt to tackle him.

Over the last fortnight the Highlanders have found themselves in a similar boat to the Rebels, unable to counter the size and aggression of the South African packs, and they were never really in the hunt, going down 34-22 to the Stormers.

One ray of light was an encouraging return by Waisake Naholo – who has no doubt heard the footsteps of Sevu Reece closing in on his World Cup jersey.

The local derby saw the Sharks intercept Elton Jantjies twice, to seal a 27-17 win over the Lions, and further confuse the play-off picture.

Despite all teams in this conference regularly taking points of each other, it is not inconceivable that all five teams will gain a play-off spot, along with the Crusaders, Hurricanes and Brumbies.

It is the Rebels who are in position to turn five into four, if they can dispose of the Waratahs next week in Melbourne – something they have had difficulty in doing throughout their Super Rugby history.

If that doesn’t happen the Rebels will get another chance at home against the Chiefs. If it does, the unlucky South African team won’t be known until the final match is played. The Stormers currently sit fractionally behind the others, but the Bulls have two more matches on the road, while the Lions and Sharks have three tricky matches remaining.

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Whether all of the South African teams qualify, or if only three of them do, the likelihood is that all will be required to play their final away from home. No finals match in South Africa whatsoever is certainly not what SANZAAR and SuperSport had in mind when the conference and finals structure was first put together, and it will be interesting to see whether Phil Kearns’ distaste for the Jaguares will echoed in the republic.

Rebels players, including Will Genia and Quade Cooper, celebrate

Will Genia and Quade Cooper have been lethal in 2019. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

What now becomes important for all of these contending teams, is that with the finals now within touching distance, expectations get re-set, and making the eight becomes, in itself, insufficient.

Using the Rebels as an example, having never made the finals in their existence, any finals appearance this year can be considered a step forward. But there will be a sense of underachievement, and little joy to be found in limping into eighth place for the ‘reward’ of another trip to Christchurch.

Thus with so few points between the fifth-placed Rebels (33) and the 10th-placed Highlanders (29), every win and every bonus point gained from here is vital.

That’s a ‘separation’ issue really worth talking about.