Rugby: Force win as TV replay shows officials' frailty

By Wynne Gray

Force coach John Mitchell celebrated his side's first home victory with ham and cheese toasted sandwiches and a couple of beers.

His parents-in-law were over to visit and anyway, Perth on a Friday night was best left to the young and restless.

Mitchell was in at the office the next morning to give a scrummaging lecture and begin the Force's plans for hosting the Reds this Friday.

"These are highly emotional contests and we spend most of the week getting them to avoid personal battles with each other," Mitchell said.

The former All Black coach barely raised a grin when Cameron Shepherd kicked a sideline conversion after the siren to give the Force their first Super 14 win in nine games at Subiaco Oval. Shepherd's kick snapped a winless run which included three one-point losses and a draw against the Crusaders.

"Don't get me wrong," Mitchell said. "It was great to get the win and great to bury that millstone. Some of us coaches are starting to get a better understanding of what soccer coaches go through. Usually our teams are either buried early or have a game wrapped up - not these nailbiters.

"Now we have to realise we have got to produce that work again. It is a tough competition and we need to back this up."

He could also reflect on the Force's final home game last year when they were denied a late try and the elusive victory by the television official and had to settle for a 23-all draw with the eventual champion Crusaders.

"We got the rough end of the stick that time and looked like we might again here but fortunately it turned out right," Mitchell said.

Referees' requests for video verdicts and the influence of the TMO's was dragged into the spotlight in several matches.

At Carisbrook, the Highlanders were holding a narrow lead when fullback Glen Horton was ruled to have scored in the corner. Replays did not discover any significant reason to disqualify the try but the pictures did seem inconclusive, there was doubt but the try was given.

Then as the Hurricanes rumbled towards the Force tryline, prop Neemia Tialata looked to have jammed the ball against the post for a decisive late try. Referee Mark Lawrence called for the television official with footage justifying his request as Tialata lost control of the ball.

But minutes later Lawrence signalled a try for Jimmy Gopperth when replays showed the five-eighths had not grounded the ball legitimately. That blunder looked as though it would cap another frustrating defeat for the Force before the final late twist and Shepherd's historic converted try.

At Eden Park, the Lions were no match for the Blues. The visitor's winning start to the series was shown up for what it was - an aberration - as the power and pace of the Blues shredded their clumsy opponents. They had no answer to the Blues' strikepower.

But the Lions did not deserve a decision on halftime when Daniel Braid was gifted a try. Referee Paul Marks asked for video help because he could not see the ball under a mass of Blues' forwards. Any footage the spectators, and presumably the TMO scanned, was of similar assistance. Somehow the TMO decided the try had been scored.

It probably was but on the evidence of the replays, that judgment had to be guesswork. Referees are often pilloried for their rulings but at Eden Park and elsewhere, they were victims of their colleagues' frailty.

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