The Springboks were careful not to criticise the referee in the wake of their gutting loss at Eden Park, but they are clearly not happy with Romain Poite's performance, reports JON CARDINELLI in Auckland.
Poite yellow-carded Bismarck du Plessis for a 'no-arms' tackle on All Blacks flyhalf Dan Carter in the 17th minute. Poite would hand Du Plessis a second yellow in the 42nd minute, a sanction that meant permanent expulsion for the fiery Bok hooker and the end of the game as a contest.
Coach Heyneke Meyer and captain Jean de Villiers made all the right noises at the post-match press conference at Eden Park, but it was evident that the Boks feel they were hard done-by.
Replays of both incidents confirm that Poite got it wrong, and that the Boks did not deserve to play 48 minutes of the biggest game of the year with just 14 men.
Did the officials have control of this game? When asked this question afterwards, Meyer offered a humourless smile. 'You can probably answer that question yourself.'
De Villiers flatly refused to comment on the two incidents. He said that the Boks would accept that the referee had the final say, and like Meyer, he felt it better to leave it to others to decide whether Poite was absolutely correct or hopelessly wrong.
Of course, players and coaches are not allowed to criticise officials in the media. It made Saturday evening's press conference interesting in that while Meyer and De Villiers didn't make any big statements outright, there was a lot to be read between the lines.
'We didn't start well, but that try 10 minutes before half-time gave us confidence,' said Meyer. Bismarck du Plessis's try from a rolling maul and Morné Steyn's subsequent conversion brought the Boks back into the game, and they trailed by just 17-10 at the break.
'I don't think we played that well, but I felt we would always have a chance after half-time. They outplayed us in the first 30, but I really felt there was a momentum shift after that driving maul,' said Meyer.
'But then three minutes into the second half ... ' the Bok coach didn't need to finish the sentence to convey his true feelings regarding the decision to red-card Du Plessis.
'You can't play the best team in the world with 14 men and expect to win. It's not just the defence, but the attack. You can't scrum and you can't drive in the lineouts with one man down. We have to move on, though, and look forward to the next two games at home.'
De Villiers was hard on the visitors for what he felt was a poor performance, but even the diplomatic Bok captain couldn't resist a chance to point out the absurdity of Poite's first-half decision to show Du Plessis the yellow card.
'Bismarck's disappointed. He's a physical player. He's a very good tackler, and I think he executes his tackles very well,' said De Villiers. 'He was disappointed that he only played 30 minutes of this game, and he was disappointed that Willem Alberts had to sit on the side with him [when a front-ranker is sin-binned, the team sends on a replacement and routinely takes off one of their loose forwards].
'We're all disappointed with that, and the result. It is what it is and we need to move on.
'We need to learn from this because at the end of the day, no matter what happened or decisions that were made, we didn't play well tonight. I suppose you could say that losing by 14 points when you're playing with 14 men against the best side in the world is not too bad, but we didn't play well. We didn't defend well. And that's the concerning thing for me.'
The result marked the Boks' first loss of the season. While he wasn't happy with the showing, De Villiers feels this team is on the right track.
'I thought the management and coaching staff did everything they could to prepare us for this game. We had a fantastic game plan, but the performance is 100% the fault of the players. Myself, as captain, must take responsibility. We let our country down.
'The beauty is we have two games left to rectify it. We'll take this on the chin and realise we're still quite a way from competing against the best.'
The Bok will play the Wallabies in Cape Town on 28 September before finishing their Castle Rugby Championship campaign with a Test against the All Blacks in Johannesburg.
Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images
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