Opinion – Jacques
We are two weeks into the United Rugby Championship and as expected, the South African franchises have been struggling.
Most in SA would have been under no illusion that our teams would struggle, firstly because we do not have our Springboks playing any part in the first half of the tournament and secondly we always knew that our players would take a few weeks to get used to the type of game that is being played up north and the way officials handles the game.
After these two rounds, those expectations have come to been accurate and we are also seeing the teams struggling to come to terms with the playing conditions.
Now the easiest way out for us as supporters has always been to blame the referees but after this weekend I started to ask myself the question, are we not supposed to be good enough to sum up how an official will handle a specific game and change the way we implement our game plan?
Surely our coaches and players should be able to do a bit of homework on the official and understand how he will judge certain actions on the field. We are supposed to be professionals playing a professional sport which the little voice in my head says, we should analyse officials as much as we do our opposition of the day.
It does not matter where you play in the world, no one week to the next week we see the interpretation of referees to be the same, so clearly as a team we did not do our homework.
To say I was pretty upset with the way the Irish referee Andrew Brace handled the match between Munster and the Stormers, is putting it lightly. But after the match I realised it was more out of frustration because I did not understand most of his calls rather than anger towards his handling of the match and I am sure the team and coaches of the Stormers felt the same.
Now let me put it out there that as a South African I will always looked at a match involving a South African team from a South African perspective and I find that normal as any other supporter will do the same for his or her team that they support.
It will also be wrong to blame Brace for the loss against Munster, the fact is that the Stormers had Munster rattled in that first 35 minutes and led 15-0 before the mistakes brought the home side back in the match just before halftime.
Don’t get me wrong, Brace made a few errors in this game but that is rugby, because no one can show me a game where an officials have not made a mistakes in the 80 minutes on the field.
So how do we fix this?
Well there is a few things I picked up in the last two weeks concerning the way officials handle the game.
What has been clear in the first two rounds of URC is that officials will reward attacking teams more than the defending team. Now rightly or wrongly, I personally I have no problem with that because we want to see a flowing game between two sides. That is what most people have been asking for and in that sense that is what the officials seemed to try and achieve.
This means in my view referees has rewarded attacking teams more when it come to the dark arts on the ground with the rucks and mauls. They seemed to even allow cleaners to come in from an angle to clean out players although the law states clearly you are supposed to come through the gate.
On the flip side they do reward the correct turnover of the ball at ruck time but the defending team has to carry their own body weight and they have to go for the ball directly and not stabilise themselves with their hands or knees before attempting to steal the ball.
In this instance they also do not allow a tackled player to lie around forming any kind of obstruction to any of the attacking team to play the ball out of the ruck. Here we saw the Stormers getting blown up a few times on Saturday because the tackler did not roll away even if he is not close to the ball.
In the scrums they are very strict on how the front row scrums. At one scrum we saw the Stormers all over Munster but the penalty went to Munster because the Stormer prop was in on the angle from the hit, nothing wrong with the decision again.
Looking at the Munster v Stormers match then we need to look at some stats which explain how the Stormers actually lost this one.
Clean breaks: The Stormers had 5 against the 1 from Munster and defenders beaten the Stormers managed 20 against Munsters 13. All of Munsters tries came from power plays with their pack and that coincided with ill-discipline from the Stormers that led to field position. On the defensive side the Stormers missed less tackles, pointing too that Munster used their chances better than the Stormers.
Munster conceded more penalties than the Stormers as well which all points to opportunities missed by the Stormers.
We just need to apply ourselves better throughout the game and use the opportunities when they come, if not, you will be punished because one thing the teams in Europe do well is score when that opportunities come their way.
This you can pull across to all our teams current in Europe and the wins will come when they can take the referee out of the game by playing to his interpretations, cut down on the penalty count and take the opportunities.
17 Yellow cards have been dished it in two rounds which tells you that they do not hesitate to go against any illegal actions from players, especially in the red zone. Dangerous play will also see players send to the bin with no hesitation and personally I have no problem with that.
The quicker our coaches and players adopt to the way the game is played and officiated the quicker we will see results. The signs are there that we are getting better. In the past two weeks all four the SA teams have played pretty well in patches