Harsh refs softening up Super Rugby, complain coaches
Coaches John Kirwan and Michael Cheika decry harsh decisions in final round of Super 15 as Chiefs finish on top after Bulls lose
Agencies in Wellington and Sydney
Incensed Auckland Blues coach John Kirwan is demanding referee Chris Pollock be held accountable for a red-card ruling which he said ruined their Super 15 match against the Waikato Chiefs.
New South Wales Waratahs coach Michael Cheika also took a shot at the referees, accusing them of penalising players for making hard but legal tackles, which he believes will soften up the highly physical sport.
The Chiefs, the reigning titleholders, go into the championship play-off series at the head of the table after their 26-16 victory over the Blues, who were reduced to 14 men for three-quarters of the game.
Blindside flanker Kane Barrett was red-carded for stamping on Craig Clarke, although the big Chiefs lock said he thought the boot only grazed his shoulder.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie admitted the dismissal "seemed pretty harsh" and Kirwan has challenged Sanzar referees boss Lyndon Bray to take action.
"A yellow would have been sufficient and it ruined what would have been a great game," Kirwan said, arguing there was no intent on Barrett's part. "It's time we started to mature and be a professional sport and everyone is held accountable.
"I challenge Lyndon Bray to do what we do; being dropped from selection next week because you don't play well or losing your job because you don't coach well."
Sanzar, the governing body of the Super 15 competition, said in its citing that Barrett is accused of "stamping or trampling" on Clarke, but the player said he hardly felt it.
"I felt a little bit on the shoulder," Clarke said. "I feel for the man. If that was a club game you wouldn't look twice at that thing. I know he's hurting about it."
Barrett was yesterday cited for a second stamping incident on Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna which went unnoticed during the game but which officials said also warranted a sending off.
In Sydney, Cheika was fuming after referee Steve Walsh watched a replay before issuing Waratahs hooker John Ulugia a yellow card for a chest-high tackle on Queensland Reds winger Rod Davies.
The coach compared Walsh's decision to umpire Aleem Dar's mistake in the first Ashes test on Friday when the Pakistani turned down Australia's appeal for a catch against England's Stuart Broad despite the batsman clearly getting an edge.
"Everyone saw it. I don't know if it was Aleem Dar proportions, but it was pretty crooked," Cheika said after the Waratahs lost 14-12 to their traditional rivals.
"He had a second look as well. It was interesting listening to the third umpire, the TMO. He was saying: 'Do you want me to comment, Steve?'
"And he said: 'No, no, no. I'll have another look.' But I think everyone saw he put his arms around him. I don't know whether they should have had a kiss or not while they were in there.
"It's a shame because hardness is going out of the game," he added. "There's nothing illegal about it. It's a good, hard tackle and that's what we try to get guys to do at training.
"Then in a game, as soon as someone puts in a good shot, everyone panics. Like, 'give him the sin bin'. I don't know, touch footy next year maybe."
The Chiefs stayed top on 66 points after the Northern Bulls crashed 30-13 to the Western Stormers in Cape Town to finish second, three points adrift. Both teams will have a bye when the first phase of the play-offs gets underway this weekend.
The Brumbies botched their chance of finishing in the top two in a shock 21-15 loss to lowly Western Force in Perth and they will host South Africa's Central Cheetahs in Canberra in Sunday's qualifier.
Seven-time champions Canterbury Crusaders will have home advantage in the other play-off when they take on the 2011 winners Queensland Reds on Saturday.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters