Sharks captain Beast Mtawarira should know accusing the referee of prejudice will prove nothing, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day.
Funny how, when things go the South African way, there’s no mention of biased referees or of a conspiracy against South African teams. But when they don’t, the 'blame the referee' culture comes to the fore.
Mtawarira should be embarrassed at his exchanges with referee Ben O’Keeffe, whom he effectively accused of bias and prejudice in just one of a series of petulant outbursts.
Mtawarira should focus more on his primary functions as a player and take a '101' leadership course that focuses on fronting, taking responsibility and on showing functional and emotional intelligence when the pressure is on. I am not alone in singling out Mtawarira.
SuperSport rugby analyst and former Springbok coach Nick Mallett was agitated and appalled at the behaviour of the Sharks captain, who also has played in excess of 50 Tests for the Springboks.
Mallett said: 'There is always a reason to moan and to blame. The way in which Beast Mtawarira approached the ref was completely incorrect. In one instance, he actually said: “It’s not fair, it’s not fair. You’re just trying to even things up”.
'Which is in a way saying the referee is cheating and not officiating with objectivity. You cannot, as a captain, make accusations like that. When I saw where the chat originated from, the scrum had collapsed and Beast’s head was in the grass, a penalty was given and a yellow card for JP Pietersen.
'He didn’t even see that JP cynically grabbed a guy’s foot and deserved a card. So, he comes in and harasses the referee. It’s not right.'
Mallett added that there appeared to be a culture of blame within the Sharks squad. This would solve nothing. He made mention of coach Gary Gold’s outburst at one of the officials during the home defeat against the Crusaders.
Gold subsequently was charged, found guilty and fined. He admitted guilt, was apologetic in his response and said his action had no place in the game.
But his captain’s actions also have no place. And frankly it’s pathetic, especially when, as Mallett said, the Beast didn’t see the offence for which Pietersen was sin-binned.
His comment was also so misguided, given the local New Zealand referee O’Keeffe overruled the TMO recommendation of a yellow card and red-carded Highlanders centre Jason Emery 15 minutes into the match. Emery’s challenge on Willie le Roux was ugly and a red-card offence, but it was more a case of clumsy than it was malicious. O’Keeffe could have been guided by the TMO, who felt there was no intent to do harm.
The Sharks captain should have been applauding O’Keeffe for his emphatic response to the illegal nature of the challenge. A referee made a call on an offence he felt had no place in the game. He did not look at the time in which the challenge was made or at the colour of the jersey.
The culture of blame in South African rugby, and of believing that there is always a conspiracy against the country’s teams, means so often the real cause of the problem is not attended to.
The Sharks have problems with their attack and it is something very similar to what we saw when Allister Coetzee coached the Stormers and defence dominated every game plan and every selection.
The Stormers have taken a few seasons to evolve from a team with the best defensive record to one with an attacking record that could match the defensive intent.
It is understandable the route Gold has gone this season after the disasters of last year when the Sharks were the second-worst defensive outfit in the competition.
This season, Gold had to get back integrity to the Sharks' performances and his players have responded impressively to the blueprint of defensive guru Omar Mouneimne.
But it means there are limitations on attack and more so because of the absence of influential captain, playmaker and flyhalf Pat Lambie.
The Sharks’ win in Dunedin is a bonus to a season that will get more difficult.
I had the Highlanders to win by 15 and, somehow, I doubt the Sharks would have celebrated victory in New Zealand if the game had been played 15 on 15 for 80 minutes. But the Sharks won, take it, enjoy it and get on with it.
Similarly, the Stormers, who were uninspiring against the Reds and the Lions, who rested several frontline players in dismissing the weak challenge of the Kings.
The game of the weekend undoubtedly was the Chiefs’ 28-27 win against the Hurricanes. It could have been a Test match, such was the intensity and quality in defence and attack.
New Zealand rugby in Super Rugby is a class apart, with four of their five teams enjoying the most league points and if it were not for the conference system, I doubt a South African rugby team, or one from Australia, would qualify for the semi-finals.
Photo: Michael Bradley/AFP Photo