Hurricanes coach Colin Cooper has refused to condemn Matt Goddard’s controversial refereeing display at the Cake Tin on Friday night, but has issued a plea for rugby to once and for all sort out the mess that is the Experimental Law Variations.
Aussie ref Goddard had a massive influence on the Hurricanes’ 14-19 Super 14 defeat to the Bulls, taking a hard-line stance at the breakdown that saw him dish out five yellow cards (three of them to home players) and one red one.
Marc Hinton writes for RugbyHeaven that television commentators lambasted Goddard for his officious performance which appeared to be premeditated. To be fair to the official, he did spell out from the outset that he was not going to tolerate illegalities at the breakdown.
After yellow-carding Ma’a Nonu in the 28th minute he told the Canes midfielder: “You’re not slowing my ball down.” And after sending flanker Scott Waldrom on the walk of shame early in the second spell he remarked to anyone who was listening: “We will free this game up.”
Unfortunately he never quite managed that ideal in a match where the more disciplined Bulls (who did have flanker Deon Stegmann sent off for two yellow card offences) punished their hosts severely for their indiscretions.
The Canes had Nonu, Waldrom and Jason Eaton all sinbinned, while the Bulls had Stegmann and Pedrie Wannenburg both yellow-carded for ruck illegalities, and Stegmann sent off when he dumped Conrad Smith on his head in a dangerous tackle.
But it was the Canes who were, er, caned in the penalties, finishing on the wrong side of a 13-3 count that saw Bulls kicker Morne Steyn punish them with four three-pointers.
Cooper said he was disappointed that his Hurricanes let a key home match slip, but he was not keen to point any fingers at Goddard’s performance.
“We can’t use the ref as an excuse,” said Cooper yesterday. “We have to adapt. If you don’t adapt you’re going to come second.
“I know what he’s trying to do. But probably the concern for all of us is the next referee will come along, and the inconsistency of that. It can’t just be all on one man. He’s trying to tidy up the toughest area in the whole game. But next week is the same referee going to have the same stance?
“I’m certainly not blaming him. We had opportunities to win the game. The Jeremy Thrush “try”, Dane Coles was put in the clear and dropped the ball. It disappointed me because we gave silly penalties away and in the end that’s what beat us.
“I guess it’s just a regroup for us now as we get away. It’s a good chance for us to unite, have a real hard look at those areas, and those silly penalties we did give away.”
Cooper reiterated that it was up to the players to adjust to whatever line was being taken by the referee, even if it was a harsh one.
“That’s what we’ve been preaching to them. The players tell me later because of the hard line they didn’t go into contact as hard as they could. But if you stay on your feet and stay legal you’re going to be OK.”
But the Hurricanes coach was prepared to speak out on the subject of the ELVs and the controversy that’s swirling around the IRB’s pet law changes.
“The ELVs have just given a whole lot of knockers of the game an opportunity to have a crack at us, at our game. That pisses me off because I’m not only hearing it in the media, or from fair-weather fans, but I’m hearing it from coaches, ex-coaches, and profile people who are having a crack at our game.
“I don’t think that’s good. The sooner we sort out the ELVs, the better. We need to unite as a group of rugby administrators, coaches and players and get behind the game, because at the moment it’s taking a knocking.”
The Hurricanes had their issues ahead of today’s flight out for South Africa. Eaton survived a judicial hearing in Wellington after being cited for “stamping or trampling”, but was cleared to take his place on the flight.
Centre Conrad Smith (cheekbone) and hooker Andrew Hore (eye) both picked up injuries out of the defeat. Hore is out for the opening match against the Lions, and stayed behind in New Zealand where he will be reassessed midweek and may join the team for their second match, against the Sharks in Durban.
Smith was cleared of any fracture in his sore cheekbone, suffered when he was dumped in an illegal tackle by Bulls flanker Deon Stegmann..Tweet