Monday, July 16, 2007

Daily Telegraph (thank you Cass!)

It's from the Daily Telegraph.

ALL Blacks skipper Richie McCaw has been branded a protected species by the Springboks - and the Wallabies are concerned his aura will also intimidate the rookie referee controlling Saturday night's Auckland blockbuster.

The Eden Park Test looms as the most important the Wallabies have played since the 2003 World Cup final.

They can reclaim the Bledisloe Cup the All Blacks have held for the past five seasons and win the Tri-Nations crown for the first time since 2001 with a victory over their trans-Tasman rivals.

But the latest debate over McCaw's back-row "cheating", combined with the appointment of a greenhorn official in Welshman Nigel Owens, has highlighted Australian concerns over the impact the Kiwi captain could have on the outcome.

One Wallabies source has told The Daily Telegraph there are fears the All Blacks "could get away with murder".

South African skipper Johann Muller claims they already have - during a 33-6 win over the Springboks in Christchurch on Saturday.

Muller told reporters after the match that referees were afraid of sending McCaw to the sin bin. His outburst followed the yellow-carding of Springboks back-rower Pedrie Wannenburg in the 52nd minute for an offence the South Africans maintain was identical to one that did not draw the same punishment for McCaw.

According to Muller, McCaw is shown far more leniency than match officials are prepared to offer the game's other leading open-side flankers, Wallaby star George Smith and South African dynamo Schalk Burger.

"If Richie McCaw had blond hair and wore a green jersey or had dreadlocks and wore a gold jersey, he would never finish a Test match," fumed Muller. "You want to play a fair game and you want get a fair go at the breakdown but he (McCaw) is really making it difficult for us. "he yellow card made the difference. (Yet) McCaw wasn't sent off for exactly the same infringement."
When Australian referee Stuart Dickinson sent Wannenburg for a 10-minute sin-bin stint, he allegedly told the Boks it was for "playing the ball on the ground".

McCaw was penalised inside his own quarter for the same offence but remained on the field. Muller said that when Wannenburg was marched, the only difference was that the South African was supposedly guilty of a "cynical" foul, words Dickinson did not use against McCaw.

"I'm not sure what (the difference is)," Muller added.

Wallabies coach John Connolly last night refused to criticise McCaw and offer the All Blacks any unwanted ammunition in the countdown to the Bledisloe decider.

"He's world class, and he plays right on the edge," Connolly said.

But the coach did confirm, without providing specifics, that he would speak to Owens about several issues before the Test.

Owens, 35, has only been officiating at the international level for the past two years. He is the sole Welshman on the 12-man referees panel for the World Cup and will control the Wallabies' third pool match against Fiji on September 23.

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