World Rugby’s most experienced referee has opened up on the “challenges” of controlling All Blacks tests and warned match officials to be vigilant of illegal New Zealand tactics in the upcoming Lions series.
In a column written for the London Telegraph, South African Jonathan Kaplan turned the spotlight on several of the world champions’ tactics at the breakdown and taking players out off-the-ball.
They were two of five “key areas” that Kaplan, the world record holder for the most tests (70) and who retired in 2013, targeted in the column which analysed why officiating Lions Tests in New Zealand is so challenging.
“New Zealand are masters of the subtle nuances which often determine the difference between winning and losing,” wrote Kaplan.
“I refereed the All Blacks 18 times, often in tough encounters where they invariably found a way to get over the line.
“It helps a lot to have a rugby culture ingrained in their youth and I believe they have the most developed philosophy on the game, included in which is their physical conditioning, which allows them to up the tempo deep into the sharp end of matches.”
Kaplan told the Telegraph there would be “lots of pressure on the match officials” during the Lions tour. “The whole country will basically come to a standstill. That is a beautiful thing, but it makes it ultra-intense,” he wrote.
Listing “flooding the breakdown” as the No. 1 area Steve Hansen’s men were particularly adept at, Kaplan claimed “turnovers are the name of this game and the All Blacks’ tactics in this area reaps big rewards”.
“They often flood the breakdown with numbers when there appears to be a numerical mismatch, some of it not always legal,” Kaplan wrote.
“Once again, the rewards far outweigh the odd penalty. If they get quality ball in this situation, they have the game breakers and steppers to kill off any team.”
Kaplan argued the All Blacks were also guilty of the “questionable tactic which one sees periodically of the killing of quality ball after a line break or close to the goal line”.
“I remember a few years ago when England toured New Zealand, Marland Yarde was correctly shown a yellow card after an indiscretion post-tackle by Nigel Owens, who I still regard as the best ref in the world,” he wrote.
“However, a few seconds earlier, New Zealand should have been penalised on their line after Malakai Fekitoa held on to Freddie Burns a metre from his own try line.
“He should have been sent to the sin-bin – the game was in the balance – but in the event they dodged the bullet. Instead of England having a numerical advantage and a penalty five metres from the try line they ended up with 14 on the field and the game was as good as gone.”
Kaplan urged match officials for the Lions tour to more vigilantly police the tactics, arguing the game’s integrity is at stake.
Officials should use all means possible including video replays.
“There can be no more important aspect than the correct upgrading of sanction when needed. This is vital to maintain not only the desired shape of the game, but also its very integrity.”
Kaplan called for match officials controlling the Lions matches to have a game plan before kick-off on policing lineouts and scrums and was also scornful of the “nefarious” tactic of clearing out opponents who are not taking part in a ruck or post-tackle situation.
“It happens consistently every week down south – and with all southern hemisphere international sides, especially New Zealand – and it is a tactic referees are very poor at picking up,” he argued.
“It causes a huge amount of frustration for the non-offending team, who are trying to defend legally and often leads to retaliation as a result.
“Teams get away with it quite often and hence some big holes are opened up for the attack to exploit.
“It is not a popular penalty to give against the attacking team.”
Kaplan also attacked the tactic of teams slowing down a game in the dying minutes with negative play.
“I would make it very clear prior to the series my views on winding the clock down with a pick-and-go,” he wrote.
“It is a blight on the game, but referees also need to be consistent. Pulling a rabbit out of the hat late in the game for an infringement which has been allowed all day is the worst outcome.”
Thanks to- NZ Herald