'Players must adapt to referees'
March 8, 2013
The Reds were defiant in holding off the fast-finishing Hurricanes.
A lot of comment has surrounded referee Steve Walsh's performance in Brisbane last weekend, but for me the question is why did he go from being non-existent the week before in the game between the Highlanders and the Chiefs to the centre of attention a week later? I think that comes down to the attitude of the teams playing, and the way they are approaching the game. The way in which the game is played is down to the players as well as the referee.
Walsh is probably one of the best referees in the competition. Did he have an influence on the Reds-Hurricanes game? No. Those who claim some of his calls in Brisbane were contentious and affected the outcome are probably being naive. Good players have to be able to make adjustments during a game. The great players have that ability to adapt.
As for the physical contact on Conrad Smith, the Hurricanes captain, I think Walsh just bumped into him. What the issue has highlighted, in a reverse sort of way, is the notion of the sanctity of the referee. Critics said "imagine what would have happened had a player touched a referee like that", so it is good to see that understanding is still part of rugby when some other sports are not so fortunate.
I think the Hurricanes' response smacks of desperation to the altercation. They had such high hopes for their season, but they are 0-2 with the Crusaders as their next encounter. That match is almost do-or-die for them. They are absolutely desperate; they won't want to go a month without a win.
The Blues demonstrated their title credentials in a five-try demolition of the Crusaders
The Crusaders disappointed in their first game, against the Blues. They were lethargic and rusty, and the Blues played with high energy appreciating playing in front of a big crowd. The Blues have superb talent, and they were driven around the ground with accuracy and composure.
The Crusaders will look to rebound by demonstrating the new-found freedom in their game that coach Todd Blackadder has talked about. They need to be a lot more physical and determined at the breakdown and other contestable parts of the game.
The Highlanders this week have a chance to kick-start their campaign by downing the Cheetahs with the confidence provided by having some of their senior players back. They need to show they have the pedigree of a champion team.
The Chiefs showed title credentials in running over the Cheetahs in the final quarter
The Chiefs play the first game in South Africa by a New Zealand side this year, and they will have plenty of confidence even if the management were unsatisfied with the performances against the Cheetahs. The Stormers present a chance for them to pick up their game, and it is hard to see the hosts holding the Chiefs even if it is their first game at home this year.
The Blues face a new challenge because the Bulls know only one way to play; the Bulls play a physical style, a territory game to accumulate points. The Blues pack need to be motivated to play in a different way, and their set-piece work will come under real scrutiny.
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