DURBAN – Wales had to scrap tooth and nail to beat a frenzied Fiji side yesterday, when it had been predicted they would win comfortably, but rather than their lucky escape eroding their Championship credentials, I think it enhances them.
Fiji, when they find their mojo, can give any tier one team a hard time and yesterday it was the Welsh on the receiving end of a flying Fijian side that for most of the game looked like they were going to engineer an upset.
But Wales found a way to win. That is the hallmark of very good teams – they win the tough games. The All Blacks over the years have been exceptional at that, they have the wherewithal to sneak the spoils.
Yesterday’s match reminded me of the Fiji v Springbok quarter-final in Marseilles in 2007. That was also a day when the Pacific Islanders hit their straps. The Boks didn’t have an answer but hung in and then there was a rousing effort at the death to win the game off a line-out maul.
The Boks were outplayed that day, but won and went onto win the Webb Ellis Cup. Wales were mostly outplayed but doggedly manufactured a victory when so many previous Wales teams would have perished.
Unfortunately, if Wales had lost, there undoubtedly would have been an outcry from the Welsh valleys about referee Jerome Garces’ non-officiating at the rucks, where the Fijians dived in as if they were at a swimming gala. There was no attempt to stay on their feet but Garces just ignored it.
It was lot like the Springboks v Australia quarter-final in Wellington in 2011 where Bryce Lawrence allowed David Pocock to do what he liked. Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones was doing his nut, as was an agitated Warren Gatland in the stands.
At the risk of carping on about the referees, especially those of Gallic extraction, the following facts about the make-up of referees at World Cups makes fascinating reading. You will see that the more the French Mr Beans ruin games, the more they multiply.
In the 2007 RWC there was one French ref: Joel Jutge.
In the 2011 RWC there were two French refs : Romain Poite and Garcès.
In the 2015 RWC there were three French refs: Garcès, Poite and Pascal Gauzere.
In 2019 the World Rugby High Performance Match Officials Manager is Alain Rolland from Ireland, and there are five French match officials.
To me, there appears to be a Northern Hemisphere bias in the selection of the World Cup referees.
How else do you explain all the French refs bumbling along in Japan and the non-selection of arguably Super Rugby’s best referee, Glen Jackson, the former Chiefs flyhalf that has such a natural feel for the game?
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