Bet on Black!
Dean Ryan defends Alain Rolland and looks ahead to the World Cup final between New Zealand and France.
Last Updated: 20/10/11 6:06pm
I recognise that I may be in the minority but you have to feel an element of sympathy towards Alain Rolland after the weekend's drama.
Think through this scenario: You are given a semi-final spot, which is a straight head-to-head with Craig Joubert for who referees the World Cup final the following weekend, the ultimate accolade for any referee.
You have also both been instructed to apply rigorously the IRB directives on a number of law interpretations, one being the 'tip tackle'.
Your game just happens to throw up one of the contentious issues 10 minutes in. Follow your instincts and issue a penalty and yellow card for the offence and fly in the face of Paddy O'Brien, the IRB referee head honcho, and you don't have to be a betting man to work out the odds on you getting the final.
Or uphold the IRB's wish to send a statement out to the rugby refereeing world and issue a red to the new Welsh poster boy, and the rest we now know.
With the luxury of hindsight and a position on the touchline for the final, I wonder if Alain feels totally comfortable being the flag-bearer for his employers.
Wales and Sam Warbuton have been a revelation in this tournament and have emerged with a group capable of driving this team on to great things in the future.
There is a core value that stands out to anybody who has had any dealings with this team and it is certainly not something that has been attributed to past Welsh or English teams for that matter, and that is humility.
This is perfectly framed in the new younger crop of players and in the leadership style of Warbuton. The way that the players have dealt with any media questioning constantly underplaying their own hand and championing their team ethos, has for once had a real genuine ring about it and not something that has been schooled by the nearby media officer.
McCaw reigns supreme
It's no accident that this is a characteristic that has underpinned All Black teams of recent years under Richie McCaw.
There will be many challenges to this as the Welsh team return home with a greater profile, but hopefully they never lose sight that the performances they graced us with on the field were directly attributed to the people they were off it.
Many people's pre-tournament finalists met in the other semi-final with the two key areas of contest both going New Zealand's way.
The first eagerly awaited clash was that of Pocock versus McCaw. There was no doubt that whoever won the clash at the breakdown kept the other teams attacking threat under check.
Pocock, who after having had license to write his own rulebook against South Africa, was always on the back foot. Firstly, he is Australia's one and only real scavenger for ball, something New Zealand cleverly targeted by running directly at him, forcing him to become the tackler who's immediate action has to be to roll away and not compete.
Secondly, when he was the arriving player, his technique of 'filling the space' above the ball of the tackled player, often leaving his feet before finding them again to compete for ball, was deemed illegal by the man in the middle, Craig Joubert.
You could feel his frustration build when it looked like to the rest of us that New Zealand were equally guilty.
This is where McCaw and co. have their critics but when you examine their technique you get a better understanding.
Firstly, just about all of the All Black team compete for ball and the pressure is relentless to get the ball back, irrespective of whether McCaw is in the vicinity or not.
Secondly, the arriving player often uses the same technique of leaving his feet to 'fill the space' but when he returns to them his actions are different.
Instead of competing for the ball like Pocock he does his upmost to make life difficult for the tackled player to present the ball, using his presence and weight to make the presentation difficult. If this isn't possible he will make himself a general nuisance to arriving Australian players.
Now it's the second arriving NZ player that will compete for the ball, hopefully with his target in a trapped position, and it is this player that attracts the referee's focus. Legal? I'm not so sure. Clever? Definitely.
The first contest really took care of the second, and we never got to see the best of Genia and Cooper as they were forced to play off slow ball or gamble from deep. Aaron Cruden got an armchair ride to the World Cup final, and not even he could have dreamt of that a week ago.
Now with the final being a repeat of their last World Cup triumph over France, I really can't see anything other than a New Zealand victory. So for all those I let down in my earlier predictions, blame the French and put everything on black! As for first blood? I'll go for an All Black penalty and for Israel Dagg to get the first try.