Is it just a game?

So, how did you enjoy the semi finals? did the two best teams got through?

Yes they did, both semi final winners scored tries, the point of the game, and conceded none; but no thanks to the French whistleblower in our game; thirteen penalties to six was a bit on the nose; to say nothing of that yellow card. The referee, legitimately or not, kept the Springboks in the game when they had 43% possession, from that ran 149 metres against the ABs 387 metres, beat 3 defenders against the ABs 20. The penalties may be legitimate, but it did seem to be a strategy of the Springboks to focus more on winning penalties rather than scoring tries.

It was a bit different in the Australia/ Argentina game where the Argies had more possession 55:45 and more territory 54:46. But the Australians made more of their possession with four tries to nil and the Argies were kept in the game courtesy of being awarded 12 penalties, five kickable and converted to 15 points, while conceding only six, one of which was kickable and converted to 3 points. 

And that, my friends is probably the real impact of a referee. NOT what penalties he awards to a team, which draws the slow motion, frame by frame scrutiny of every camera at the stadium together with millions of analysts, but rather the penalties that are not awarded which are much harder to notice. The game and our attention moves on too quickly to notice many indiscretions. As Michael Cheika tried to explain about the penalty of life they were given against Scotland, there was an experiment when a bear (sic; it was actually a man in a gorilla costume) walks through a bunch of people playing with a basketball but goes unnoticed because all the focus is on the ball.

So does it happen? are there ulterior motives?

Do the World Rugby executives have sound commercial reasons for musing in front of the referee selection committee chairman ‘who will rid us of this turbulent team?’

Are there subliminal forces at play in the minds of the referees?

Are the referees occasionally just missing the gorilla?  

Do bookies have an interest and an influence?

I am one who would rule out the bookies; while undeniably they have a very big interest in the game, the Indians do not play rugby and I think the referees appointment committee would spot external match fixing without any trouble. I just never really believed that rumour after the 1995 final that ‘bookies’ had arranged the food poisoning of the tournament favorite All Blacks. But what is undeniable is that 27 of the squad did get food poisoning 48 hours before the game. Possibly accidental, but when aligned with the semi final result, possibly deliberate, although not by bookies.

Videos and analyses of South Africa’s semi final strongly suggest that South Africa should not have even got through to the final. It should have been another All Black/ France final. A number of collapsed mauls with the French on attack went unpunished then a try by Benazzi in the last-minute of the game was denied by referee Derek Bevan who then whistled full-time. The suspicions of bias were not appeased when, at the after match function, Bevan was, to the embarrassment of IRB officials, awarded a gold watch by South African Rugby Union president Louis Luyt for his outstanding refereeing.

Bevan hoped the presentation would not be misconstrued, but he accepted the watch. Sportingly, Benazzi later said that while he was certain he had crossed the line and scored, the outcome was important for Mandela and the new era for South Africa. I think the world generally concurred. This was a fairytale ending for a nation being welcomed back to the global community and let us not deny it, brought the South African Rand back into IRB coffers. But does the end justify the means?

The rugby world rejoiced in this 2015 Cup when Japan beat South Africa and then went on to also beat Samoa and the USA. It is possibly conceivable that Japan could beat USA and even Samoa. But to beat South Africa was absolutely inconceivable. The penalty count was 12 to Japan, 8 to South Africa, but more importantly Japan had six very kickable penalties and got five of them for 15 points, South Africa had two kickable penalties for six points. That, of course, does not explain how the South Africa with such a brutal defense structure conceded three tries. Another fairytale story for the brave Blossoms. But behind the scenes Japan, which is hosting the next World Cup, was struggling to put together a team having been awarded a place in the Super 18 competition for next season. This would put a lot of financial pressure on the hosting of the RWC 2019 and the successful development of the Yen as a major contributor to the World Rugby coffers.  Achieving the inconceivable, beating a team that sat at the top table, has created the desired surge of support for rugby in Japan. A miserable day for South Africa but happy outcome for rugby. Perhaps the Boks were promised a friendly referee in the quarter and semi finals as a reward for taking it on the chin? Perhaps they were reminded of the IOU they signed to the IRB in 1995?

Is it just a game? Is there a game behind the game? The substantial incomes of players and officials from all countries depends on cooperating for the greater revenue streams of the World Rugby organisation. Sometimes the franchises may just have to play the game. For aren’t they are in the entertainment industry? Aren’t these just our 21st century gladiators? Heroes and villains, blood and guts, fear and courage, despair and elation. Predictability is boring; just keep taking us all on the emotional super roller coaster; it is addictive and we will pay plenty for the ride.


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