The Growden Report
Referees Pascal Gauzere, George Clancy appalling
Greg Growden
September 8, 2014
Rob Horne dived over to steal the win for Australia © Getty Images

The Wallabies have at last beaten someone perched above them in the world rankings. It has taken awhile. But if the Australian players and management seriously start believing they are back on track then it's time for them to take some 'truth pills'. Their one-point win over the Springboks was deeply flawed, exposed many of their inherent weaknesses including a lack of discipline, and showed their fundamental skills are at best average.

The Wallabies can also no longer carry on about being a luckless team, as they received the benefit of a string of dreadful decisions from referee George Clancy, who should have his whistle confiscated after such a diabolical performance. The Springboks have every right to cry foul as they were victims of numerous Clancy blunders. Bryan Habana should not have been sent to the sin-bin late in the game for what Clancy perceived as a high shot on Adam Ashley-Cooper; it was a penalty, nothing more.

Australia 24-23 South Africa (video available only in Australia)

Springboks captain Jean de Villiers was right in complaining about the decisions, as a similar tackle on him by Rob Simmons eight minutes earlier resulted in a penalty, not a yellow card. Then whoever was running the sideline clearly had a malfunctioning wristwatch because Habana was still standing on the sideline wanting to get back on after more than 12 minutes in the sin-bin. There were also breaks in play after Habana's 10 minutes in the bin when he could have been allowed to return to the field. Not surprisingly, having the luxury of an extra player for such an extended period, the Wallabies eventually had to score the match-winning try.

As confounding was the decision to penalise Duane Vermeulen when he smashed James Slipper in the tackle during the first half. Clancy deemed it too high, and penalised the Springboks No 8. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

It was the long weekend of whistling woes. As inept was French referee Pascal Gauzere during the New Zealand-Argentina Test. That game revolved around refereeing mistake after mistake. If the Rugby Championship seriously wants to describe itself the best international tournament outside the Rugby World Cup, then it has to make sure the best officiators are in charge of the games.

New Zealand 28-9 Argentina (video available only in Australia)

In the opening three rounds, there have been endless complaints about referees not being up to the required standard. Clearly more brutal assessors are required. Clancy's eagerness to be the centre of attention was made that much easier when one Wallabies forward took it upon himself to try to break the record of the most individual penalties ever achieved in a Test match.

Simmons' place in the Wallabies must be seriously questioned after he was endlessly caught out doing something silly. Several of the penalties awarded against Simmons and his team-mates were just plain dumb, and made you wonder if anyone in the team had ever taken the time to read the law book. Irritating the referee is nothing new for Simmons, and the stream of penalties against him is becoming a liability. Certainly the penalties vindicated Brendan Cannon for his comments to ESPN that infringements mark not only a lack of discipline but also a lack of thought for the team culture and trust in defensive patterns. "Penalties give teams an easy way out of pressure, or any easy way to score points, and poor discipline is a reflection of people not buying the team ethic because they're trying to do too much themselves," Cannon told ESPN before the Perth Test.

As big a problem is fact the Wallabies keep making elementary errors under pressure. Passes go astray, kicks go nowhere, and they waste the big moments. How ironic was it that one of the Wallabies booted the ball over the dead-ball line just seconds after Ewen McKenzie had told Fox Sports shortly after half-time that "we have to make sure we don't give them [South Africa] an easy ride".

Wallabies' winger Adam Ashley-Cooper drops the ball after diving over the tryline, Australia v South Africa, Rugby Championship, Pattersons Stadium, Perth, September 6, 2014
Ashley-Cooper failed to score off a loose ball © Getty Images

But there were some encouraging signs.

Israel Folau continued to be the standout Wallabies player of the Rugby Championship, with a mistake-free performance that saw him extend his lead in the Greg Growden Medal count for Wallabies Player of the Year. Tevita Kuridrani had his best game in the green and gold, and Bernard Foley again handled the big pressure moments with a winning conversion that showed why his Wallabies team-mates have given him the nickname 'The Showman' as he always produces in the glare of the spotlight.

Kurtley Beale's involvement was minimal, but flourishing, while Scott Higginbotham again made a substantial impact off the bench.

McKenzie is unlikely to tinker too much with a winning line-up, but personnel and tactical changes are required. Simmons needs to sit on the bench for a while, and why not try Will Skelton in the second-row against Argentina. Higginbotham deserves a start at No. 8 ahead of Wycliff Palu, while Beale, who showed he is a match-winner off the bench, should be on the field far earlier; he certainly requires more than seven minutes.

On Sunday night, the Wallabies headed to the Gold Coast for the coming Test against the Pumas feeling mightily relieved and believing they deserve a few days reprieve. They shouldn't relax though; Perth was a great escape, nothing more.

Israel Folau is the man of the tournament to date for Australia © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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