Super Rugby
Beware the Super spoilers in run to playoffs
Brett McKay
May 20, 2015
The Chiefs were left fuming over a couple of tough calls in their loss to the Hurricanes © Getty Images
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Round 14 of Super Rugby was dominated by discussion and debate of officialdom, and Greg Growden was bang on the money on Monday, saying the referees will have a hard time of it while ever the Laws and the interpretations remain the complicated mess they currently resemble.

Keep it simple, stupid. Certainly, there are more than a few items in the rugby bible that could easily be 'kissed' goodbye.

Regardless, here were a few things to stand out in Round 14.

Hurricanes 22-18 Chiefs (Australia only)
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Chiefs open trial week?

Do you have to duck your head to get through doorways, and tip the scales somewhere near 120kg? If you're anywhere near the broader Waikato region this week, have a pair of eight-stud footy boots and a decent vertical leap, you may well be in line to play lock for the Chiefs this weekend.

Already missing a number of frontline players going into Round 14, the Chiefs then lost both Michael Fitzgerald and Michael Allardice - the latter to what looked like a horrible knee injury - before half-time in the match against the Hurricanes.

Much has been said about the dying stages of their match in Wellington, and particularly the officiating in and around Augustine Pulu's disallowed try, but the fact the Chiefs were able to remain in the contest for as long as they did speaks volumes for the systems Dave Rennie and his coaching team have established.

As Andy Withers and I discussed in the Scrum5 podcast this week, injuries are something the Chiefs have just dealt with all season. Even in this game, they lost Sonny Bill Williams and James Lowe the day before the match. But such is the strength of the program, that it doesn't matter which player is wearing what jersey, they just get in and do the job required of the number on their back.

And so it will be this week, and this Friday night in Rotorua. The Chiefs told me via email that they hope Matt Symons will be right to face the Bulls when they name their side on Wednesday, but they've also brought former Crusaders, Chiefs, and All Blacks lock Ross Filipo into the squad as insurance. Brian Alainu'use, who is part of the Chiefs Development team, is also training with the main squad.

For any other team, you'd be excused for thinking that injuries to key players would have to start taking a toll, but somehow, the Chiefs have carried on despite the seemingly regular setbacks. And that being the case, and with the results they've achieved, you'd be a game tipster to write them off.

That said, if you do meet the dimensions outlined above, and if you see him around, perhaps just introduce yourself to Dave Rennie this week.

Nuisance value

It's more politely referred to as 'playing for pride', but the reality is the teams now out of finals contention intend on making life as difficult as they possibly can, should they meet a finals-bound opponent in the remaining weeks of the season.

The Reds' demolition of Melbourne Rebels last Friday night almost certainly extinguished what faint hopes of qualifying the Rebels had, and the Sharks went very close to pulling off a boilover win against the Waratahs on Saturday night as well.

So this weekend coming, it will be a similar situation with the Blues hosting the Hurricanes, the Force hosting the Highlanders this weekend, and even the Cheetahs hosting the Lions. Then in Round 16 the Cheetahs away to the Stormers, and depending on what happens this weekend, the Lions may be out of contention and looking to be the spoilers for the Waratahs on the start of their South African tour.

The Reds can restore some pride in Queensland rugby in the coming weeks © Getty Images
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But if the 'contenders' are smart, they'll realise that playing the would-be 'spoilers' is actually the perfect preparation for the playoffs. If the Hurricanes can contain the unpredictable Blues, they can contain anyone. If the Highlanders can break through the hard-tackling Force, they'll fancy their chances against most other teams as well.

And don't underestimate the 'spoilers' either. They won't say it out loud, but you just know that if they're responsible for a side missing the playoffs, in time they'll look back at the 2015 table and who just missed the finals, and chuckle to themselves. "We did that."

A spoiler tip? I like how the Blues just did enough to keep ahead of the Bulls last weekend, and they're always hard to beat at Eden Park. Be nervous, Hurricanes fans...

TMO clarity required

Too often this season, the interactions between referees and TMOs, and the scenarios around when the former can call on the latter have left us scratching our heads. We've been bewildered to see awarded tries overturned, and equally bemused when try overrules could have and probably should have occurred to correct obvious errors, but weren't.

Three weeks ago, I openly asked "...in this day and age of endless stoppages, why in those moments before the lineout Hoffmann couldn't have quickly called time off and had TMO George Ayoub confirm where the ruck was," regarding Rohan Hoffmann's crucial confusion of the still-visible NRL 20m line for the rugby 22m line, in the match between NSW Waratahs and Melbourne Rebels in Sydney. It seemed obvious what should have happened, and there was even time for that to happen, but it didn't.

On Saturday, in Sydney again (albeit a different stadium), confusion around whether a ball was taken back into the 22m again found referee Hoffmann. But this time, he did call TMO Ayoub into action; replays were observed, and the correct decision was reached. Well played to all involved. But that's cold comfort to the Rebels, who essentially begged Hoffman on the night three weeks ago to check the tape. He didn't.

Waratahs 33-18 Sharks (Australia only)

So why did he this time? What has happened in the three weeks since the first incident that the replay could be now called on? If it's self-awareness of an earlier mistake, then Hoffmann should be congratulated. But if a directive has come down from above that suggests this is now allowed, then surely the rugby public need to be made aware of this.

For the record, Law 6.A.7 Referee consulting with others under the sub-heading "Law Amendment Trial" states the six situations in which the TMO can be consulted. All six refer to either the ball being grounded in goal, shots at goal, or possible foul play.

Checking whether a ball can or can't be kicked out of the 22m on the full doesn't fall under any of these categories. But common sense suggests that checking was the right move.

And that just underlines the need for clarity even more. There's far too much grey and fuzziness around when the TMO can and can't be called upon.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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