- By Adam Julian in Taupo
Bewilderment, anger, tears, the mood and appearance of the Wellington Under 19 squad wasn’t pretty after their devastating 21-18 loss to Auckland in the National semi-final on Wednesday.
Months of earnest preparation was left in tatters following a defeat where Wellington absolutely failed to grasp all their chances, but were the victims of unfortunate officiating.
When the game stretched into extra time it was inevitable the referee would decide the contest.
It was a spectacle punctuated with frequent whistle. It was only a matter of when, where, who and for what a penalty would be conceded.
The pain wasn’t drawn out, the additional period only lasted three minutes.
Wellington’s initial clearance, in extra time, from their 22 was poor and that was the only sniff the abrasive Aucklanders needed.
The most harmful incident to hamper Wellington’s prospects was the decision to yellow card lock Caleb Delany for not wearing his mouthguard.
The moment occurred early in the second-half when Wellington was ahead 15-5. When the junior Lions were restored to a full complement, Auckland had narrowed the margin to 15-13.
Delany, with his mouthguard tucked in his sock to communicate clearly, approached the referee complaining of a head knock, subsequently to become disagoised as a concussion. Chris Paul judged Delany to be coherent and swiftly applied the letter of the law which states an instant yellow for the offense. Previously a warning and a penalty would have occurred before greater sanction.
Paul would have received a big tick in the box from those responsible for his performance appraisal. Technically it was the right call, however it showed a lack of empathy for both the player and the game.
Do you really want New Zealand’s leading age group tourney being potentially decided on such a short and pedantic judgment?
Safety is absolutely paramount and perhaps an absolutist approach to the laws in relation to safety is the only way to ensure clarity around safety disputes.
However players will receive warnings for any number of infractions before they occur, offside, hands in the ruck, the list goes on. A polite reminder to reapply the mouthguard might have been a better course of action?
Delany was concussed which means his testimony is not entirely reliable. The referee is not obligated to listen to the advances of players, especially those who aren’t the captain.
However in a disoriented state what an extraordinary display of responsibility and integrity by Delany to inform the referee of his deteriorating condition.
Delany is a proud, ambitious, tough young man with a lot at stake. In the ‘good old days’ playing on regardless of the consequences would have been the typical course of action. Why would the referee not listen to this unusual inquiry?
Is Paul a doctor?
Why did he not apply a blue card?
Should the referee be able to seek the support of the medical staff in the future to assist with head knock judgements. It might mean a delay in proceedings, but in the name of safety isn’t that surely worthwhile?
Not that it’s relevant to Paul, but an internally sore point with Wellington is Delany’s background. On University scholarship, Delany is one of the most intelligent players in the team. He is respected for his precision and diligence. Delany is the least likely player, when fully conscious, to make an error of that nature.
Wellington made few errors at scrum time, growing in stature throughout and really applying the blowtorch towards the end.
Close to fulltime another bone of contention was a penalty given to Auckland five-metres out from the line after Wellington had earned two penalties in a row. How did this happen?
It frankly looked like guess work. Wellington applied the same approach which had earlier gained profit.
On Saturday, Wellington will play 2018 champions Bay of Plenty for third place. In the same fixture last year Wellington imploded and were badly beaten.
The Wellington campaign has been built on the theme of the Proclaimers song, ‘Walk 500 miles.’ The idea being that life is a quest to follow roads to the top of a mountain and on the path to those peaks, troughs will be encountered.
Wellington has stumbled, but they must pick themselves up.
They owe it to coach Dion Waller and his wholeheartedly genuine passion.
They owe it to a dedicated, capable and tight-knit group of coaches and supporters who have created an environment where it’s likely new friendships will become enduring friendships.
Most of all they owe it to themselves. Realistically Taine Plumtree, Shamus Langton, Josh Southall, Iona Apineru, Sam Smith, Luke Chisholm and the Thomspon twins, Tyrone and Leo, have a serious shot of making the New Zealand Under 20 squad.
One more big effort will improve that groups prospects.
Wellington can ill afford to have their industry fall on deaf ears again.