The Springboks have suggested that referee Bryce Lawrence’s failure to punish Australia’s infringement at the breakdown cost them heavily.
The defending champions conceded 10 breakdown turnovers, with Wallabies openside flank David Pocock being the chief destroyer of their attacking momentum.
Referee Bryce Lawrence came into the Test having awarded among the lowest number of ruck penalties on average in the tournament, and that trend continued as he allowed a greater contest than has been the norm. The Springboks undoubtedly suffered as a result, but they must look at their inability to protect the ball in contact and on the deck as the primary cause for their struggles (they also committed 10 handling errors).
Still, captain John Smit intimated that they were hard done by at the breakdown. ‘It [the Wallabies' perceived infringement at the breakdown] was the only talking point between he and I,’ Smit said of his on-field interaction with Lawrence. ‘The message clearly wasn’t going through.’
Asked about Pocock’s influence, Smit said: ‘I guess he was brilliant at capitalising on the way the breakdown was being interpreted. When you are brave and keep the ball, normally you are rewarded. That wasn’t the case tonight.’
Head coach Peter de Villiers echoed Smit’s sentiments. ‘Tactically we played correctly but the breakdown was a mess,’ he said. ‘In a quarter-final you have to take your chances and we didn’t take ours. Well done to them. They had a few [opportunities] and they took them. For the rest of the time we were in control. A couple of calls never went our way, but now isn’t the time to talk about the ref.’
However, Australia coach Robbie Deans, whose side has been heavily penalised by Lawrence in the tournament to date, countered that criticism. ‘We didn’t see it as that. Maybe both sides were hard done by, then. The breakdown was hotly contested, and maybe things evened themselves out,’ he said in a veiled reference to their struggles with the New Zealand official.
Asked to assess Pocock’s performance, Deans was emphatic in his response. ‘Immense. Remarkable. It was bigger than he got credit for. It was probably the most dominant performance [by an openside flank] in the tournament.’
Deans described this showing as the ‘coming of age’ of his youthful group, and added: ‘Tonight the most experienced side in the tournament turned the screws on the youngest. I don’t need to equip these boys with the skills to cope with pressure going forward. They showed that they have that capacity tonight.’
By Ryan Vrede, in Wellington.