Do the All Blacks Have an Unfair Advantage in the Tri Nations?

According to a recent report on Scrum, South African Springbok head coach, and overworked mouthpiece, Peter De Villiers, hinted that the New Zealand All Blacks have an advantage over Australia and the Springboks.  Not that they are a better team, but the referees, the Rugby Unions and probably the International Rugby Board are all part of a conspiracy to maneuver the All Blacks into a stronger position to help bolster the attendance at next year’s Rugby World Cup. (Yeah, like people need an excuse to go to New Zealand, home of the Lord of the Rings.  And as if rugby fans need any additional reason to go to the hotbed of Rugby)

De Villiers is quoted in the article:

“I’ve got my own observations about the last two tests [against New Zealand], and I can’t say it in public,” he said on July 21. “But we do have a World Cup in New Zealand next year, and maybe it was the right thing for them to win the games so they can attract more people to the games next year.”

In the U.S., this is what we call “working the refs.” Where an official or two from another team start to complain in the media that they are not getting enough calls their way in big games, or that their opponents are getting an unfair advantage.  Los Angeles Laker basketball coach Phil Jackson is a master of this kind of complaining (In fact it’s one reason Jackson was given his moniker, “The Zen Master.” Not just because of his “holistic” coaching style or spiritual beliefs, but because he’s the only NBA coach who can be up 3-1 in a playoff series and get away with complaining about the refs targeting his team.)

The idea behing this is, if you can force the idea of favoritism in the referees mind, then the next time you play that opponent the ref might take care to make a couple of extra calls in your favor to “balance the ledger” from their alleged favoritism in previous games.  You also get the added bonus of the ref thinking twice about making legitimate calls against you – so you get more of an advantage.  It’s probably as old as sports, in fact athletes in the ancient Olympics were probably doing the same thing. 

So what’s the problem, you ask?  If everyone’s doing it then it should be expected.  

It’s planting an idea in the ref’s subconscious, trying to get through to him in a less than honorable way that your team is the victim of a conspiracy that bothers me. I accept that at the end of the day there has to be a winner and a loser on the pitch, and recently the karma has bounced New Zealand’s way.  Just like last year South Africa was near unstoppable. It’s not the ref’s fault that Bakkies Botha decided to go all “Hulk Hogan” in the first few minutes of game one in New Zealand. It’s not the ref’s fault that South Africa couldn’t figure out an answer to shut down an even more determined All Black team the following week, or that took it hard to Australia when they faced off.  These problems are on the Springboks and Wallabies respectively.

I’m sure readers of the Gonzo Report/Rugby Cafe/whatever I end up calling this 😉 might think I have a slight dislike of South Africa, and nothing could be further from the truth. They are, and have been, one of the best teams in the world. I just wish they would stop playing the role of victim/thug-a-licious rugger long enough to get back to basics and focus on the game they get paid handsomely to play. They remind me of the boxer who has the skill and conviction to be a champion, but still feel like they have to fight dirty to win. And South African RFU president Oregan Hoskins had better take note of that and see what he can do to help turn this around.

If the All Blacks do have an advantage in the Tri Nations, it’s due to passion – not chicanery. And the Springboks better dig down and find their own passion before this tournament is over.

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