September 15, 2012 will be remembered as the day of the infamous wet war at Kings Park
Western Province’s atrocious performance against the Sharks at the weekend will be remembered as one of the most disgraceful displays in the 120-year history of the Currie Cup.
Certainly in the professional era it’s right up there as one of the most shameful displays of ill-discipline the game has seen. Outsmarted and outmuscled, the frustrated Cape side reverted to sheer thuggery.
Their focus shifted from ball to man as they made it their mission to hurt their opposition rather than beat them on the scoreboard. There’s no place for punching in the professional era, and while it will earn you cult status and a place in James Dalton’s next Rugby’s Greatest Hits DVD, it tarnishes the already fragile image of South African rugby.
Granted, Wilhelm van der Sluys was harshly yellow-carded for his late hit on Louis Ludik, but the actions of Jebb Sinclair and Tyrone Holmes cannot be condoned. Entertaining to the casual fan, embarrassing to the serious athlete. The duo should be reprimanded to the full extent of the law to set a precedent that such foul play will not be tolerated.
It cast South African and Western Province rugby in a bad light and made for a volatile and more importantly, dangerous, situation at the end of the match with Province, reduced to 12 men, forced to field a five-man scrum against a bewildered and committed Sharks pack honing in on a bonus point try from five metres out.
The eight against five scrum was especially dangerous given the slippery underfoot conditions and put Western Province’s front row forwards at risk of suffering catastrophic neck injuries. It also raised the question whether referee Lourens van der Merwe was in control of the game, which well and truly spiralled out of control in the final quarter.
Paul Dobson, an icon of refereeing in South African rugby and recipient of the IRB Referee Award for Distinguished Service 2012, gave Van der Merwe his stamp of approval. He assured me that the lopsided scrum contest was within in the laws and that the set-piece should thus not have been deemed uncontested as many suggested.
According to Dobson, it was up to Province to decide whether or not to level the playing field by injecting backline players into the scrum. This would, of course, have left a big overlap on the outside and Province duly decided against stacking the deck.
It must be said that the penalty try was inevitable, but possible injury avoidable. Fortunately the players escaped injury, but the team as a whole won’t have the luxury of escaping insult. A measure of respect would have been lost and the stench of Province’s unsportsmanlike conduct will long linger in the air.
Ultimately, September 15, 2012 will be remembered as the day of the infamous wet war at Kings Park.