Australian rugby writer Spiro Zavos believes the Springboks are being aided by northern hemisphere officials.
Zavos, writing on rugbyheaven.com.au, compared the Boks to England’s 2003 World Cup squad and said the only reason they could be successful in Australasia in this year’s competition would be down to northern hemisphere referees handling two of the three Tests.
‘When Morne Steyn kicked over his fifth penalty in the first half, with all the accuracy and aplomb of Jonny Wilkinson, I realised that this Springboks side is the clone of the England side that won the 2003 Rugby World Cup, with the tactical addition of the midfield bomb developed by Argentina in the 2007 tournament,’ wrote Zavos.
Zavos said the Boks couldn’t play ‘rugby’, just a brand of ‘rugby football’, forgetting the Boks’ 53-8 win over Australia at Ellis Park last year – the first match when they reverted back to this approach under coach Peter de Villiers.
‘A shrewd observer sent me an email after the Test finished: “Did [Graham] Henry and [Robbie] Deans learn nothing from the Lions matches. The Springboks have one (bloody effective) style of play that has 4 stages: Biff. Bang. Bosh. Kick. The way to beat them is to move the ball quickly into the backs and have runners both on the inside and the outside (as per the first try). Note the Springboks’ complete tactical inflexibility, eg when the Wallabies were down to 13 men and some 7-a-side rugby was called for Habana and Pietersen to ‘run in’, and what happened? The Springboks KICKED!’
Many other Australian writers have berated their side for their lack of discipline, but Zavos chose to blame this on the referees.
‘The success of the Springboks’ attritional, rugby football style of play was helped by the referee, Irishman Alain Rolland. The penalties given against the Wallabies were justified, although he was unduly harsh with his yellow card to Richard Brown, who got his timing wrong after making a tackle. The problem was that infringements by the Springboks weren’t penalised. George Smith, as acting captain, made this point to Rolland after the Wallabies were penalised late in the match for coming in from the side. Smith made the [valid] point that Heinrich Brussow had sealed off the ball for the Springboks by lying over it, forcing the Wallabies’ offence.’
Zavos cited the Boks’ only defeat of the season, when De Villiers made 10 changes for the third Lions Test, as justification of how they were dependant on northern officials.
‘It is significant, in my view, that the only loss suffered by the Springboks this season was when Stu Dickinson, the excellent Australian referee, handled the third Test between the Springboks and the British and Irish Lions. Dickinson [correctly] was less impressed with the dockyard brawl rugby of the Springboks than the northern hemisphere referees.
‘Traditionally in the Tri-Nations, the Springboks have been strong at home and vulnerable out of Africa. This year might be different,’ he continued. ‘When the Springboks play the Wallabies in Perth, the referee will be the New Zealander, Bryce Lawrence; in Brisbane, the referee will be Wayne Barnes, an Englishman, and in Hamilton against the All Blacks, the referee will be Nigel Owens, a Welshman. This means British referees will officiate in five of the six Tri Nations Tests involving the Springboks this season.’