Referees are back in the Super Rugby spotlight after the NSW Waratahs’ ill-tempered loss to the ladder-leading Sharks produced a lopsided penalty count, a yellow card for a mere push and two post-match citings.
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika believes his scrum have become victims of a perception problem in the eyes of referees.
However, Cheika has ruled out seeking an explanation from SANZAR’s referees boss, despite the 19-9 penalty count against his team which proved crucial in their two-tries-to-one, 32-10 loss in Durban on Sunday (AEDT).
It’s the third consecutive week Australian teams have been on the wrong end of lopsided penalty counts in South Africa, with Queensland coach Richard Graham angered by the treatment of the Reds in recent away losses to the Sharks and Lions.
And it follows SANZAR’s decision last week to dump three referees from its Super Rugby list.
Following their ill-tempered and often brutal clash with the Sharks, the Waratahs were miffed that captain Dave Dennis was sin-binned in a match-turning moment for a meek push, despite numerous first half incidents – two of which were later cited – being deemed unworthy of yellow cards by New Zealand referee Mike Fraser.
But Cheika’s bigger concern was why front rowers Benn Robinson and Sekope Kepu were consistently pinged for collapsing scrums, costing the Waratahs valuable chances to build attacking pressure.
Cheika suggested the Sharks front row hoodwinked the referee with gamesmanship and said there’s a stigma attached to the Waratahs scrummaging that isn’t the reality.
“There’s a certain perception around our scrum with the referees that we have to fix,” Cheika told AAP.
“I’m not too sure how but we’ll work on it to find a way to fix that.
“We got penalised twice for going down when it was pretty clear the opposition guys faded back.
“If the other guy doesn’t fully engage, where do you go? If you can’t come closer on the impact, how do you stay up?
“I wouldn’t bother (seeking clarification from SANZAR). I’m not sure if anyone’s got the answer to be honest.”
Queensland lost their penalty count 16-4 in Johannesburg last week against the Lions, with South African whistleblower Stuart Berry in charge.
The Waratahs face another match in South Africa this week, although they’ll like their chances more against an injury-ravaged Stormers team who fell 22-17 to the Queensland Reds in Brisbane, their fourth straight defeat.
NSW could be missing winger Rob Horne through suspension after he was cited for a swinging arm high shot on Francois Steyn – the Sharks centre facing punishment himself for a subsequent late, body-slamming tackle on Waratahs playmaker Kurtley Beale.
Cheika however is confident of having superstar fullback Israel Folau (throat) and hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau (neck) back on deck.
The Waratahs (16) trail the Brumbies (17) by a point in a tight Australian Conference, with the Reds and Western Force (14) and Melbourne Rebels (10) also still in the finals picture.
“To be able to become one of the top teams we’ve got to balance (physicality) with also being clinical and have both functioning at some time,” said Cheika.
The Reds are bracing themselves for their toughest battle of the season against the Force in Perth on Saturday night.
“They’re playing good rugby and … they always tend to lift for this game,” said halfback Will Genia.
Melbourne will look to back up their epic 32-24 upset over the Brumbies against the Highlanders this Friday.
“If we can we win the next two (on the road) then that definitely puts us back in that finals contention,” said Rebels lock Luke Jones.