Blues coach Pat Lam has fired up over what he believes was unfair officiating in his side’s 32-39 Super 14 defeat to the NSW Waratahs in Sydney.
Rugbyheaven NZ reports that it’s an interesting tactic from the Blues coach in the wake of his side’s third defeat of the season and in a week where they confront the competition-leading Bulls at Eden Park (5.30pm on Saturday), and will have to do so without injured All Black loosehead prop Tony Woodcock.
But whether it’s a motivational ploy, or just a frustration he feels he has to get off his chest, Lam was clearly distressed enough by the officiating in Saturday night’s SFS heartbreaker that he made it a theme of his Monday press session.
The highly entertaining match, which the Tahs sealed with a 72nd-minute 90m intercept try to Lachlan Turner, was refereed by inexperienced Kiwi Garratt Williamson who had officiated in just one Super 14 contest prior to this season.
Running the line were Aussies Paul Marks and James Leckie, and Lam made it more than clear that he thought the two assistant referees had an undue influence on the match.
“All we ask for is an even playing field,” said an exasperated Lam. “We had concerns about the appointment of an inexperienced referee, and particularly the touch-judges — one has been dropped by Sanzar and the other has been cut from Australia’s top referee panel.
“We had the ref ears, and the real concern we were getting the whole game was ‘white this, white that’, and not one call was made on the Waratahs. When I reviewed the game, sure enough there wasn’t one.
“I looked at the penalties we gave away through the game, and saw countless examples where they could have been called against the other team, and weren’t. I know this can sound like sour grapes, and we did not lose the game because of that. It just made the challenge a lot harder.”
Lam said he had addressed his concerns with Sanzar referees controller Lyndon Bray as part of the normal review process, and he was confident that it would be dealt with appropriately.
Asked what his main grievances were, Lam made it clear that he believed the officials hadn’t given his side a fair go.
“A lot of things were called up, and a couple of them led to tries. It was things we were called up for and the other team wasn’t.
“We sort of feel like the game was managed by Paul Marks, James Leckie and Phil Waugh,” he added, referring also to the veteran Waratahs skipper.
Lam was definitely looking to accentuate the positives out of the defeat to the Waratahs, where the Blues did well to fight their way out of an early 0-14 hole, but were guilty of not closing things out down the business end as they had to console themselves with two losing bonus points.
Two bad lineout losses on their own throw late in the piece were bitter blows, while another intercept try gifted to the opposition came right when the Blues looked as though they were about to extend a three-point lead to eight, or even 10, inside the last 10 minutes.
“At 32-29 [up], with eight minutes to go, we had a scrum on our own 22 and the boys decided to go. The reason they went was it was on, and it proved right because we worked our way 80m upfield with some good interplay between forwards and backs.
“It got down to the last pass, and I was sitting in the box thinking ‘yep, make this pass and we are going to score’. Instead there’s an intercept, 95 metres and the game’s changed. That was gut-wrenching. The boys had worked so hard to get to where they were, and it proved right except in one pass.”
The Blues coach did, however, admit some “costly errors” had contributed to the defeat over the last 10 minutes.
Lam all bit confirmed Woodcock would be a non-starter against the Bulls, even though scans cleared him of any serious neck damage. “There’s a lot of bruising round the neck, so it’s highly unlikely he’ll be available this week,” said the coach.
But All Black Luke McAlister and former international Anthony Tuitavake will, which Lam admitted created some selection headaches this week as the Blues prepared for the Bulls and that rumbling rolling maul of theirs.
“We’ll look at the way we want to play, balance everything up and I’m sure we’ll come up with the right team.”
They’ll need to, for it’s no stretch to say the Blues’ season is on the line. Lam senses the urgency of the occasion but he’s adamant his men are on track to get a run going.
“I’m really impressed with the way the guys dealt with [the loss],” said Lam. “Everyone’s pretty gutted, but more determined. We know we’re on the right track with what we’re trying to do.
“I’d say confidently if this had been last year we would have folded. [The last] two teams who have been over there before have been embarrassed. The potential was there when we went 14-0 down, but the resilience and the guys’ fightback was impressive.
“It was just a pity we couldn’t finish it off because we were that close.”Tweet