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No Rassie-like Springboks review of decisive All Blacks penalty

By Liam Heagney

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Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber has given a very un-Rassie Erasmus-like response to the breakdown decision that was critical in his team’s agonising loss in last Saturday’s round five Championship match against the All Blacks in Townsville. The world champions were leading 17-16 when the whistle of referee Luke Pearce blew with the clock showing 76:21 in Townsville. 

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Willie le Roux had gathered a loose ball that had gone backwards from a green player’s hand and he countered, evading Rieko Ioane and getting wrapped around the legs by Ethan Blackadder and swallowed up at the same time by Quinn Tupaea, who proceeded to fasten his hands on to the ball to win the penalty that Jordie Barrett struck between the posts for the winning points.

There was a suggestion that Tupaea might perhaps have been illegal, that there was no daylight between the All Black player’s hit and attempted poach. However, rather than criticise the decision of the referee, something that Erasmus infamously did when attacking Nic Berry’s handling of the Lions versus Springboks first Test in July, Nienaber suggested his players Franco Mostert and Sbu Nkosi could have instead done better at the breakdown to protect le Roux when the full-back went to ground. 

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Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber talks Rugby Championship tactics
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Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber talks Rugby Championship tactics

It was a reaction laced in diplomacy given that the penalty Pearce awarded consigned the Springboks to a third successive defeat so far in the four-game Australia-based section of their Rugby Championship campaign. But Nienaber suggested it was the type of breakdown situation that the Springboks must handle better, especially as next Saturday’s rematch with the All Blacks will be controlled by Pearce’s RFU colleague, Matthew Carley.

“That last breakdown we could have done better,” shrugged Nienaber, whose record in charge of the Springboks now reads five wins and four defeats following the costly late infringement. “We had two players there. We should have done better there. 

“Those two players, I am not saying they are at fault, I am just saying we could have handled that situation better. We don’t want to put it in the referee’s head to make a decision there. We must be good enough to sort it out ourselves. We had an internal look at that breakdown and we gave ourselves the blame for it. We must be better in that department.   

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“On the referees, no referee goes out to make mistakes as no player or coach goes out to make a mistake. I’m not saying he did make a mistake or he did not make a mistake. He saw a picture of in live play and he had a split second to make a decision. That we can’t control. 

We can only control what we do and how we handle that and maybe the picture that we paint can be a little more dominant. We don’t have control over the decisions the referees make. They make decisions just like we make decisions. Sometimes we make the wrong ones.”

With regard to Erasmus, there is still no indication yet from World Rugby about a date for the hearing into the misconduct charge filed against the Springboks director of rugby and SA Rugby following criticism of the Lions series match officials. 

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No Rassie-like Springboks review of decisive All Blacks penalty

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