Ref gets it right shock
June 23, 2014
Steve Walsh stands calm and firm as Alun-Wyn Jones pleads - without success - for a change of heart over the late penalty-try © Getty Images
Damned if you do ...
Referee bashing is, it seems, part of the game, but if ever the tribal bias of the critics needed to be made more obvious then the feedback regarding Steve Walsh's handling of the South Africa-Wales match said it all. Walsh is a Marmite official, with quite a few coming down on the hate side of the watershed, but despite that he is one of the top referees. The abuse he copped from a large majority Welsh feedbackers to ESPN during the match peaked with the two first-half yellows and the late penalty-try. The South African element had a brief moment of outrage when they were reduced to 14 but that was soon forgotten. For what it is worth, the general view was that he was on the mark with all the big calls, and with the final one took in all the information before deciding, in conjunction with his TMO, that Liam Williams' 'tackle' warranted a penalty-try. And to all those who shouted that Walsh was a "cheat" - there is a massive difference between someone who gives a decision you do not like, which might even be a bad one, and a cheat.
Wherefore art thou Wilko?
Our colleagues in Australia are reporting that Jonny Wilkinson is being courted by men with deep pockets who want him to play a few games in their National Rugby Championship from late August. Common sense says this will not happen for many reasons, not least because he will have started the next stage of his career as a coach with Toulon by then. Plus, having bowed out in such emotional circumstances in back-to-back high-profile finals, does he really want to risk his reputation and body in some second-tier games in Australia where he would certainly be in every wannabe hit-man's sights? But nothing can be ruled out, and if those pockets really are bottomless …
The vultures circle Saint-Andre
Few would be prepared to stake their house on the hapless Phillipe Saint-Andre being in charge of France come autumn internationals, let alone next year's Rugby World Cup. His French side looked for long periods of the three Tests as if they would rather be anywhere but playing in Australia. While there is only so much any coach can do, Saint-Andre's list of excuses has grown as the tour has gone on. The initial fault lay with the number of foreigners playing in the Top 14 which reduced his selection pool, but this has now been joined by moans the top French players are being asked to play too much, and also that he had to name his squad too early. Usually the days are numbered when any coach sends up so many distress flares which aimed at glossing over the reality that his charges appeared uninspired and unfocussed. There is no reason to think this time will be any different.
The unseemly spat between former England hooker turned journalist/commentator Brain Moore and the Daily Mail's Charlie Sale rumbles on with the pair continuing to exchange insults. Surprisingly, Sale's editors allowed him to use his column to snipe at Moore, which must leave most readers of his Sports Agenda column bemused. At the heart of the row appears to be Sale's faltering attempts to produce video for the newspaper's website, which led to Moore ridiculing the end result. Sale, pride stung, retaliated by rubbishing Moore's abilities as a journalist and the two have been at each other ever since. The only way to settle this would appear to be a trip behind the bike sheds, but if Sale has any sense he will make sure he does not bump into Moore any time soon. Another prickly point could be popularity. Moore has 123,000 followers on Twitter … Sale just 15,000.
Blossom in June
Amid all the hype over the major matches this weekend, what was largely overlooked was Japan's 26-23 win over Italy in Tokyo, their tenth successive in what is likely to be their last outing against any of the Six Nations' sides before next year's World Cup where they will compete against South Africa, Scotland, USA and Samoa. On their current form they are worth keeping an eye out for. Going the other way are Italy whose defeat was their eighth in eight in 2014 including losses to Fiji and Samoa ahead of the Japan game. Since beating Ireland in Rome in March 2013 they have won once in 14 outings. That was against Fiji in Cremona last November, a game best remembered for Fijian indiscipline leaving them with 11 men of the field at one point.
The acid Test
The statistics are heartening. In three matches in charge of Scotland, Vern Cotter has a 100% record. However, scrape beneath the surface and they comprise a decent win over USA and then nerve-jangling two-point victories over Canada and Argentina. But at least Cotter is winning. However, the acid test of whether this is genuine progress or flattering to deceive will come against South Africa this weekend. Scotland have never won in South Africa in six contests so nobody is expecting a miracle, but the way they compete will be of interest, especially given how close Wales came to an upset on Saturday.
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