Rassie Erasmus says that the uncertainty around the No 1 ranking should have referees heading into the World Cup with no preconceived ideas about one team’s dominance. JON CARDINELLI in Tokyo reports.
Jerome Garces will referee the Pool B opener between the All Blacks and the Springboks in Yokohama on Saturday. After all that’s been said in the South African camp this week, it will be interesting to see how the Frenchman goes about managing areas such as the scrum and breakdown.
On Monday, Mzwandile Stick raised a few eyebrows when he called for referees to treat every team equally at the World Cup in Japan.
The inference was that the All Blacks are favoured by officials in big matches. The Bok assistant coach appeared to be calling for Garces and every other referee to go into the tournament with no preconceived idea about which team is dominant.
At the Bok team announcement on Wednesday, Rassie Erasmus elaborated on what’s been a fiercely debated and much-talked-about issue.
Erasmus said that he understood why referees would reward a team that’s been ranked No 1 in the world for an extended period. In the buildup to this World Cup, however, the All Blacks have not been dominant and the No 1 ranking has changed hands three times over the past month.
‘The Springboks were No 1 in the world in 2009,’ the Bok coach began. ‘Back when I played for the Boks at the end of the 1990s, we enjoyed a great run of 17 consecutive wins.
‘When you’re in a position like that, you get a lot of support and respect from fans, opposition, and even from referees. When you’re playing so well, they find it tough to penalise you.
‘The teams are so close these days, though. England beat Wales, then Wales beat England. Australia beat New Zealand, then New Zealand put 40 points on Australia. It’s been the same with us in terms of the games we’ve played.’
Erasmus spoke about the Bok team’s deep respect for the All Blacks. He reiterated that New Zealand had earned the right to be rewarded on the field – even in 50/50 situations where calls could have gone either way.
‘New Zealand were No 1 in the world for a long time [between 2009 and this past August]. They had a lot of respect during that period, even from referees.
‘When it was really tough times and some of the teams were under the pump, the 50/50 penalties went their way. They deserve it for being No 1 for so long. It happened to the Boks when they were No 1 in 2009.
‘At this stage, it’s harder to say who is No 1 these days. I just think that the preconceived idea that one team can’t beat another is gone.
‘Any team can beat any other team. I think the point Mzwandile tried to make the other day is that referees should be open-minded about games when there’s not a lot between the two sides.’
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