Category Archives: Wales

French farce spoils great Test series in New Zealand

Referees or umpires can often put paid to an excellent game of any sport by making stupid decisions. When this happens — and it does so increasingly these days — the reaction of the sporting body concerned is to try and paper over the whole thing.

Additionally, teams and their coaches/managers are told not to criticise referees or umpires and to respect them. Hence a lot tends to be covered up.

But the fact is that referees and umpires are employees who are being paid well, especially when the sports they are officiating are high-profile. Do they not need to be competent in what they do?

And you can’t get much higher profile than a deciding rugby test between the New Zealand All Blacks and the British and Irish Lions. A French referee, Romain Poite, screwed up the entire game in the last few minutes through a wrong decision.

Poite awarded a penalty to the All Blacks when a restart found one of the Lions players offside. He then changed his mind and awarded a scrum to the All Blacks instead, using mafia-like language, “we will make a deal about this” before he mentioned the change of decision.

When he noticed the infringement initially, Poite should have held off blowing his whistle and allowed New Zealand the advantage as one of their players had gained possession of the ball and was making inroads into Lions territory. But he did not.

He blew, almost as a reflex action, and stuck his arm up to signal a penalty to New Zealand. It was in a position which was relatively easy to convert and would have given New Zealand almost certain victory as the teams were level 15-all at that time. There were just two minutes left to play when this incident happened.

The New Zealand coach Steve Hansen tried to paper over things at his post-match press conference by saying that his team should have sewn up things much earlier — they squandered a couple of easy chances and also failed to kick a penalty and convert one of their two tries — and could not blame Poite for their defeat.

This kind of talk is diplomacy of the worst kind. It encourages incompetent referees.

One can cast one’s mind back to 2007 and the quarter-finals of the World Cup rugby tournament when England’s Wayne Barnes failed to spot a forward pass and awarded France a try which gave them a 20-18 lead over New Zealand; ultimately the French won the game by this same score.

Barnes was never pulled into line and to this day he seems to be unable to spot a forward pass. He continues to referee international games and must be having quite powerful sponsors to continue.

Hansen did make one valid point though: that there should be consistency in decisions. And that did not happen either over the three tests. It is funny that referees use the same rulebook and interpret things differently depending on whether they are from the southern hemisphere or northern hemisphere.

Is there no chief of referees to thrash out a common ruling for the officials? It makes rugby look very amateurish and spoils the game for the viewer.

Associations that run various sports are often heard complaining that people do not come to watch games. Put a couple more people like Poite to officiate and you will soon have empty stadiums.

Wayne Barnes proves that incompetence will help one make progress

ENGLISHMAN Wayne Barnes has earned a reputation for refereeing bloopers, continuing the trend he set in the World Cup rugby tournament of 2007 when he awarded France a try from a blatant forward pass.

That try helped France to knock out tournament favourites New Zealand in the quarter-finals. Barnes does not appear to have improved much – at the ongoing tournament, which concludes on Sunday, he denied Wales a try conversion when the ball had clearly gone between the uprights. This was in a pool game with South Africa and as Wales lost the game by a point, they certainly had reason to feel cheated.

But Barnes has been rewarded for this blunder by being given the third-placed decider which is being held on Friday (October 21) between Australia and Wales. It looks like the man has a merry gang of backers somewhere in the International Rugby Board.

If one thinks that Barnes only makes occasional errors, think again. On the day of the Australia-New Zealand semi-final, I was trying to kill time in the afternoon in the run-up to the game and suddenly remembered that I had not watched the final Tri-Nations game between the All Blacks and the Wallabies. I sat down to do so.

Coincidentally, the referee happened to be Barnes. After I noticed a couple of refereeing errors, I decided to make some notes. This is some of what I noticed:

  • In the eighth minute, Barnes failed to notice that Australian winger Digby Ioane had gone off his feet in a ruck and was continuing to play the ball.
  • Seven minutes later Barnes asked New Zealand to position themselves for a five-metre scrum when one of their players grounded the ball in his own try-in goal area. It should have been a dropout from the 22-metre line.
  • In the 13th minute, Australian lock Daniel Vickerman played the ball while sprawled on the ground in a ruck. Barnes did not blow his whistle.
  • A minute later, Australian fly-half Quade Cooper took a swing at New Zealand captain Richie McCaw; again Barnes did not notice.
  • In the 17th minute, Australian centre Anthony Faingaa brought off a try-saving tackle from an offside position. Barnes failed to notice.
  • In the 21st minute, an Australian forward deliberately went to ground to prevent the progress of a maul. Barnes? His mind was elsewhere.
  • A minute after half-time, New Zealand lock Ali Williams tripped Adam Ashley-Cooper who appealed to Barnes. The referee refused to get involved.
  • Ten minutes later, Australian captain Jams Horwill grabbed hold of All Blacks centre Ma’a Nonu while both were on the ground in a ruck and would not let go. It was clearly visible – but Barnes was of a different opinion.
  • In the 64th minute, three All Blacks forwards were offside when they charged down a kick but Barnes kept his whistle in his pocket.
  • In the 75th minute, Isaia Toeava, who had come on as a substitute for the New Zealanders, pushed the ball back after tacklers had gone right over him. He was on the ground at the time. Barnes did not notice.
  • In the 76th minute, Australian hooker Sai’a Faingaa threw into the lineout – and even a blind man would have seen that the throw was wildly off centre. Not Barnes, though.

It is ages since I covered a game of any sport so I would probably have missed a lot more. But what I have noted should provide an indication of Barnes’ abilities. Australia won this game 25-20 and took the Tri-Nations title as a result. Had someone like Craig Joubert, who has been rightly picked to referee the World Cup final between New Zealand and France on October 23, been officiating, one doubts any of these contraventions of the rules would have escaped him.

But then there is one fundamental difference between Joubert and Barnes – the former is competent, the latter is a mass of incompetence.

Rugby union is still a fringe game, even though 20 nations gather once in four years to play a World Cup. If the IRB wants to encourage more people to come to games, it is surely doing the wrong thing by continuing to use officials like Barnes for high-profile games. People may call the third-place playoff a waste of time – but given that both teams will be smarting at having not made it to the final, it often turns out to be quite entertaining. In 2003, New Zealand, miffed at having lost to Australia in the semis, hammered France 40-14. It was a good game.

Australia and Wales are both proud nations and neither will give each other any quarter in the third-place playoff either. But the game may well degenerate into a farce – remember, one Wayne Barnes is holding the whistle.

Wales deserved to lose

There were great expectations of Wales after they made it to the World Cup rugby semi-finals and came up against France.

Today they lost a match they should have won. The scoreline was 9-8 in favour of France. And in the process they illustrated one fundamental fact of the knockout stage of the World Cup – you also need some intelligence to win these games.

For all the playmaking it did, Wales should have gone home with a final in the bag, despite playing with 14 players for 62 of the 80 minutes. France did nothing of note, they played a waiting game and made a couple of line breaks.

But they kicked straight on the night despite getting less penalties within range; all three of Morgan Parra’s kicks bisected the uprights.

Wales were down to 14 men in the 18th minute because of their captain’s stupidity. All through the tournament, we’ve heard about what a great leader Sam Warburton is; we never heard that he is short on intelligence.

As bad enough as it was to make a tip tackle on an opposition player – winger Vincent Clerc was the French player who was up-ended – Warburton compounded his offence by carelessly dropping Clerc after he lifted him off the ground. Every high-school rugby player knows that if you lift an opposing player off his feet in the tackle, then it is your responsibility to bring the man safely back to earth.

Had Warburton made even the slightest attempt to cushion the blow for Clerc, referee Alain Rolland would probably have given him a yellow card and he would have been out of the game for 10 minutes. No referee wants to spoil a game. But in the circumstances, Rolland had no option.

Six minutes before this, Wales had lost its tighthead prop Adam Jones, a man of vast experience, due to injury. Then came Warburton’s stupid mistake. It is well to bear in mind that Wales started the game with a disadvantage because of the loss of fly-half Rhys Priestland to injury; in his place, they had to play James Hook, an erratic place-kicker and not the best man to steer a team.

Hook missed two of the three penalties he took and Stephen Jones missed a conversion after scrum-half Mike Phillips had gone over in the 59th minute to score the only try of the game. In the last quarter, fullback Leigh Halfpenny just missed kicking a 50-meter penalty, the ball dipping just before it reached the crossbar.

Even with 14 men, Wales could have pinched it as France played a lacklustre game. But Wales just refused to show any patience, hurrying a couple of drop-kicks – one by Hook, one by his replacement Stephen Jones. And they kept kicking the ball away to the French. This was a game where 14 were attempting to win a game against 15 and they kept gifting possession away. Not the most intelligent tactic to use.

Had Wales shown even a tenth of the patience they showed in the last play of the game – when they went through 26 phases before they lost the ball to France – they would have been home and dry.

But they did not deserve to win. They had it in their hands and threw it away.

The loss of Adam Jones and Warburton told in the lineouts and France’s experienced No 8 Imanol Harinordoquy pinched some half-a-dozen Welsh throws.

That apart, France did nothing of note. They defended well and waited for the 80 minutes to get over. If the French play this way next week they will meet their third defeat in a final – they lost to New Zealand in 1987 and to Australia in 1999 – no matter whom they confront.