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Rugby’s biggest controversies in 2018

27 December 2018 - 15:35 By Craig Ray
Ashwin Willemse slams Nick Mallett and Naas Botha before walking off the SuperSport set.
Ashwin Willemse walks off SuperSport set Ashwin Willemse slams Nick Mallett and Naas Botha before walking off the SuperSport set.

There was certainly no shortage of drama in SA rugby in 2018 and below are some of the controversies that dominated the headlines this year.

1) Allister Coetzee’s letter to SA Rugby

Former Springbok coach Allister Coetzee was a dead man walking after the Boks’ 38-3 loss to Ireland in November 2017.

SA Rugby hierarchy wanted him out but they made no move until the tour was done.

Despite rumours through December and January that Rassie Erasmus‚ director of rugby at SA Rugby‚ was set to take over‚ nothing official came from the decision-makers.

And then a letter Coetzee sent to chief executive Jurie Roux was leaked to the media‚ which confirmed the speculation.

In his understandably myopic view of his tenure‚ Coetzee railed against Erasmus‚ Roux‚ the establishment‚ the media and just about everything else as reasons for his failure.

But he never mentioned his own team’s failings that saw them win just 11 of 25 Tests and suffer record losses to New Zealand (57-0)‚ Ireland (38-3)‚ a first ever loss to Italy and just four wins in 12 Tests in his first year in charge.

2) Ashwin Willemse walks off the SuperSport set in a huff

In a seemingly ‘normal’ SuperSport halftime broadcast of a Super Rugby match‚ all hell broke loose.

Analyst Ashwin Willemse calmly threw his toys out the cot‚ if there is a calm way of doing that‚ with some scathing words to fellow panellists Naas Botha and Nick Mallett before striding off set in mid-broadcast.

As resignations go it was first class stuff‚ which led to both and internal and external investigation‚ which will continue at the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in February 2019.

In a stunning monologue following a commercial break after the Lions versus Brumbies Super Rugby match‚ Willemse let fly at co-hosts Mallett and Botha.

“I’ve been in the game for a long time like most of us here‚” Willemse said.

“As a player‚ I’ve been called a quota for a long time and I’ve worked very hard to earn the respect I have now.

“I’m not going to sit here and be patronised by these two individuals (Mallett and Botha) who played their rugby during the apartheid era‚ a segregated era.”

The exact cause of Willemse’s anger has still not been established as he refused to participate in an independent review conducted by advocate Vincent Maleka.

Maleka expressed disappointment that Willemse did not participate in the process and made the following conclusions:

-That the conduct of Naas and Nick during the off-air conversation with Ashwin and during the live studio broadcast of the post-match commentary of the match “does not manifest naked racism and was not motivated by racist considerations”.

-Assisted by Professor Adam Habib‚ Advocate Maleka SC also found that there was also no evidence of Naas or Nick exhibiting either intended or unintended subtle racism.

But Maleka did urge Willemse to participate in the future and it seems he will now give his version of events at the SAHRC

3) Owen Farrell’s no-arms tackle and the officials that let it go

The Springboks should have had a last minute penalty against England that if successfully kicked‚ would have earned victory at Twickenham in November.

As penalty shouts go it was the easiest decision referee Angus Gardner had to make the entire afternoon.

England’s Owen Farrell‚ smashed into Bok centre Andre Esterhuizen with a shoulder‚ without any thought of wrapping his arms in the tackle.

Yellow cards have been given for much less.

Gardner and the Television Match Official somehow came to the conclusion that the tackle was legal‚ clearly using interpretations from an MMA‚ rather than Rugby Union‚ law book.

Gardener‚ who a few weeks later was named World Referee of the Year‚ admitted it should have been a penalty in the afterglow of winning his gong. His howler saw the Boks lose 12-11.

Coach Rassie Erasmus was seething afterwards and made some thinly veiled comments about ‘the tackle’.

“We'll just have to adapt our tackling like that‚” Erasmus said post-match when asked if his side should've been awarded a penalty from that incident.

“If that's the only way you can stop people and tackle like that‚ and it's in the rules‚ then we should tackle like that.”

World Rugby‚ which claims to put player welfare first‚ were deafeningly silent.