Getting upset at terrible refereeing calls is a Kiwi tradition. So why aren’t people foaming at the mouth in fury over the terrible calls in this morning’s Women’s Sevens gold medal game?
I remember watching the 2007 Rugby World Cup quarterfinal between New Zealand and France. I remember the controversial calls from referee Wayne Barnes. I also remember the national outrage that followed, complete with death threats both to Barnes and to anyone who dared utter that maybe the All Blacks lost for other reasons too.
Barnes still feels the disdain of a nation for what he did that day almost a decade ago, and many more refs have since become the target of our scorn after a few dodgy calls. We love our rugby teams and if a ref in any way jeopardises their chances of glory, we’ll be sure to let them know what we think.
So it is with some surprise that I seem to find myself in the minority of New Zealand sevens fans upset about the refereeing of the women’s gold medal match this morning. The New Zealand Sevens Sisters lost 24-17 in a match heavily influenced by poor refereeing.
First there was the (no) try. Australia’s Emma Tonegato stretched for the corner and appeared to score. The referee, Alhambra Nievas, consulted with her in-goal touch judge who confirmed the ball was grounded. However the replay (which played in the stadium) clearly showed Tonegato losing control of the ball short of the line.
This crucial call was followed by a series of inconsistent decisions at the breakdown. In the minutes leading up to Australia’s third try, Nievas’ whistle remained frustratingly silent as Australia knocked the ball on (again), kicked the ball out of a New Zealand ruck, and then failed to release the ball in their own breakdown.
Nievas then penalised the New Zealand team for not releasing in their own 22 despite an Australian player obstructing the ball off her feet. This too led to an Australian try.
In a game of 10-minute halves, the sheer number of calls that fell Australia’s way were inevitably a huge factor in their victory. While there’s no denying that they are a great team who played well and took full advantage of the first half yellow card to New Zealand’s Portia Woodman, that has never stopped the New Zealand public from piling onto a referee before.
In what can only be described as an Olympic miracle, all of a sudden the New Zealand sporting public seems to have learned the phrase “beaten fair and square” and decided to use it ad nauseum. It seems a little suspicious that this attitude only makes an appearance after the women’s team loses.
Compare the standard Facebook comments about Wayne Barnes’ refereeing earlier this year when he disallowed an All Blacks try in a game which they went on to win comfortably…
…to the comments on an article questioning the calls in this morning’s match.
Even Twitter, the home of armchair criticism, seemed awash with ‘hard lucks’ and ‘simply outplayeds’. Ironically, it was largely the IRL rugby players who felt compelled to point out the influence that the ref’s decisions had on the outcome.
When a controversial All Blacks loss is met with fury towards the ref but a controversial Sevens Sisters loss is met with ‘it’s okay (but also your fault), you did your best’, it’s hard not to feel like the public attitude towards the women’s team might be a little condescending.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for pride in defeat and pride in silver. Silver at the Olympics is incredible. I only hope that the next time a ref makes a questionable call in an All Blacks game, or even a men’s sevens game later this week, the New Zealand public will continue to react so graciously.