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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Super 14 News---Referee riles beaten Tahs

By Ben Kimber in Wellington
Saturday, May 20, 2006

Hurricanes 16 Waratahs 14

The Waratahs were left mystified and fuming in Wellington last night after two crucial decisions from bogy referee Jonathan Kaplan went against the visitors, ensuring the NSW season ended in controversy at the hands of the Hurricanes in their semi-final.

NSW were most riled by the South African referee's call in the dying minutes of the game, after NSW had ground their way to the lead, which penalised the NSW scrum on their own feed. The ensuing penalty from 50m proved the match-winner for the Canes.

NSW officials are adamant that one of their sideline runners heard the touch judge calling "yellow bringing it down" to Kaplan, suggesting the Hurricanes were at fault, only for Kaplan to either disagree or not hear, and penalise NSW tight-head Al Baxter.

While Baxter was left mystified, Hurricanes pivot Jimmy Gopperth stepped up to hammer the final nail into the NSW coffin.

"I have no idea [how that penalty was called]," Baxter said, noting that is body was straight and his opposite number's awry when getting up from the ground. "Our ball, middle of the field, I just do not see how it happened. I don't think he was sympathetic to us."

Baxter was also puzzled by an earlier scrum call on the NSW feed, which led to a tight-head win for the Canes' and a try in the ensuing play to winger Lome Fa'atau. Both Baxter and coach Ewen McKenzie said it was Kaplan who raised the issue of the Hurricanes scrum pulling back before engaging, and were shocked because they believe that was exactly what the Canes pack had done.

McKenzie was clearly gutted by another loss under Kaplan, which ensured the run now stretches to 14 losses from 15 matches, but said he believed complaining would be pointless after previous remonstrations proved a waste of time.

"Mystery, [that call] goes into the mystery vault, no idea," McKenzie said before elaborating on the persistent problems his team has with Kaplan. "I'm surprised, but not surprised, put it that way. I'll do my post match review but nothing ever changes."

While the Kaplan rulings were crucial, Baxter and a number of Waratahs figures concede they were beaten by a better side on the night, despite the fact some players are believed to have made allegations of eye-gouging by the Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes, who will play their first final against the winners of tonight's match between the Bulls and Crusaders, were on top in almost every facet of the game - their strong display in the pack being the key. What surprised was that the Waratahs managed to remain a chance until the end.

A third straight loss for the Waratahs meant the final game for veteran captain Chris Whitaker, replaced in the 59th minute of his 118th match for NSW, was a forgettable one.

Whitaker, too, had his problems with the referee, being marched 10 metres early in the game after he found Kaplan didn't like the way he queried a call, but ever the statesman, the Leinster-bound halfback echoed Baxter in saying the match was still lost elsewhere.

"Obviously the results speak for themselves [under Kaplan]," Whitaker said. "For some reason, I can't put my finger on it, but we struggle under Jonathan, but I suppose that's the way it is. You struggle with some teams, some refs and some grounds, we haven't won here before so you could make that a factor. You can't put the whole thing on the ref."

The only high point for NSW was the form of winger Lote Tuqiri, who almost single-handedly dragged his side into the match early on with a bust setting up Peter Hewat's try, but even he had his down moments.

As the match ticked away, Tuqiri attempted a drop-goal winner, believing he had the advantage on his side, only for the kick to miss and the Hurricanes to hang on to the ball.

While NSW may have ended their season on a losing streak, McKenzie hoped that the year would not be remembered that way and that Wallabies selection would still favour the top-finishing Australian side.

Meanwhile, Crusadors will play the Bulls tonight at 7.35pm in Christchurch to determine the other finalist that will play Hurricanes next weekend.

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