Throw the book at Manuels

Keo, in his Business Day column, writes that the Bulls should be taking court action against the incompetence of Linston Manuels.

If Vodacom Super 14 rugby were the professional sporting world of the US, Linston Manuels, the South African Rugby Union (Saru) and Sanzar would be preparing for a court battle with the Bulls regional franchise.

Perhaps, in the sleepy professional era of rugby union and in gung-ho SA, there will still be such a case.

There should be. The Bulls regional franchise has a strong case for the potential loss of a home semifinal, a home final and with it millions in revenue. The Bulls lost to the Hurricanes and certainly did not deserve victory on the evidence of their display in the last 20 minutes.

But the home team would have won had Manuels, the television match official (TMO), known the rules of the game and applied them when asked to adjudicate on Akona Ndungane’s try-scoring dive midway through the second half.

For those who did not see the incident: Ndungane chased a Victor Matfield kick-through and dived for the ball in the ingoal area. The ball lodged between Ndungane’s chest and waist and there was downward pressure from his body on the ball.

The law is clear that the player does not have to apply this pressure with his hands.

A nervous Manuels told the referee George Ayoub that there was no control over the ball, and that the try should not be awarded. It was the wrong decision because it was one made in contradiction to the law.

Had the try been awarded the Bulls would have led 25-12 and Derick Hougaard’s probable conversion would have made it 27-12. In the context of the match, the visitors would never have come back to seal victory.

In 10 years of Super rugby, the difference between finishing fourth and fifth in the league has been less than four points on nine occasions. Last year it was five league points.

One match has determined who ends fourth and fifth every year in this competition. The difference in that one decision by Manuels was four league points for the Bulls. They got one league point out of a game that should have yielded five.

Will the Bulls look back on their campaign and have it determined by this one match?

The difference between finishing second and third in the past decade has been less than four points on six out of 10 occasions. This illustrates how closely fought the competition is when it comes to deciding the hosting of revenue-generating semifinals.

The Bulls franchise, after round 13, could find that those four lost points are the difference between being a top two or top four side in the competition.

They should be entitled to legal action against Manuels, those who appointed him locally and the competition’s governing body Sanzar.

This column has often in the past 18 months highlighted the incompetence of officials in modern rugby. Every time this incompetence is excused on the basis of human failing, and the officials remain a protected species.

Once again the issue of incompetence from officials has dominated the headlines. The governing body and, in this instance, Saru should not be allowed to hide behind regulation or protocol on this one.

Bulls coach Heyneke Meyer said he could not comment on the TMO decision because he risked being fined for any comment made. This is a ridiculous situation. The victim may not speak out on the injustice, but the culprit will be given another whistle to blow or button to incorrectly push.

The decision was not down to interpretation of the law. Manuels clearly did not know the law, yet he was given the responsibility of being the third match official.

The consequence of this will be that Manuels will still have a job, but coaches and players could be out of a job at the end of the competition because of their failure to make the play-offs.

If rugby wants to be taken seriously as a global and professional sport it can no longer tolerate incompetence. Rugby needs a court case of this nature to wake it from its slumber.

The Bulls should be seeking legal advice this morning. And Linston Manuels should be looking for a new job.