Rugby: Ref manhandles Conrad Smith

By Paul Lewis

Reds 18
Hurricanes 12

You'd hope two things come out of this woebegone match - that referee Steve Walsh is censured for manhandling Hurricanes skipper Conrad Smith and that the Canes do not head any further down a path which could see them hailed as 'the new Blues'.

Walsh fired off an excruciating 24 penalties on a damp Brisbane night but it was his performance around a possible try to the Hurricanes late in the game that really rankled.

The Canes were pushing hard for the match-winning score (the first time they have been held tryless since the 2011 season) and seemed to have finally found the way to the line.

They harried the Reds after a kick into the danger territory. No 8 Brad Shields was bashing at the line; a try seemed inevitable. But Walsh blew for an off-your-feet penalty against the Hurricanes who had piled into the attacking ruck.

It seemed wrong, dead wrong. The ball seemed to have been legally cleared well before Walsh blew his whistle. The Canes' forwards blew up at the ref - he marched them 10 metres, pushing a protesting Smith out of the way as he did so.

Walsh apologised immediately but it broke one of the unwritten laws - players don't handle the ref and vice versa. Smith took a diplomatic view of things later, saying: "He apologised. I know it probably looked bad but he was off charging to give 10 for the backchat. I had come up to chat to him and he ran straight into me."

It didn't look like that. It looked like Walsh may have realised his mistake and was irritated at being chipped by the Canes players. Even more suspiciously, he whistled for what looked like a make-up call when replacement Reds fullback Luke Morahan scorched through a gap - a break which also looked like a try-scoring move.

But Walsh called a halt to things because he felt Reds first-five Quade Cooper had impeded a tackler - even though replays showed the obstruction was minimal.

Others may feel Smith was robbed of a try after a panicked pass from Cooper bobbled behind the line but it was correctly ruled out for a previous knock-on. A try to prop Reg Goodes was ruled out for a foot in touch, also correctly.

All of which makes it sound as though the Hurricanes were unlucky. They weren't. They spilled so much ball, kicked when they should have held possession and gave away too many (justified) penalties. The Reds' defence was stubborn, flanker Liam Gill was the game's best turnover exponent and Beauden Barrett missed several shots at goal.

The Reds scored two themselves and played the Canes cleverly - all pick-and-go and mauling. The Hurricanes are now 2 and 0, as the Americans say, and they look like a team for whom the luck is not flowing and for whom the surprise factor has well and truly faded.

Reds 18 (D. Ioane, R. Simmons tries; Q. Cooper con, 2 pens), Hurricanes 12 (B. Barrett 4 pens). Halftime: 11-9.

- Herald on Sunday

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