Samoa Skipper's Ref Rant
Samoa captain Mahonri Schwalger thinks referee Nigel Owens was harsh on his team during a spirited 13-5 defeat to South Africa that ended its Rugby World Cup in the pool round on Friday.
The Samoans were desperate to beat the defending champion Springboks for the first time to end a 16-year quarterfinals drought.
Schwalger said the Welsh referee didn't help.
"The ref was pretty harsh on us," he said. "If a few calls had gone our way we would have put some more points on the South Africans.
"The ref has got to be fair for us as well for us to compete in a game like that. I felt like it was one way, but at the end of the day you can't change the result. It's done."
Owens ended Samoa's hopes in the 70th minute when he sent off fullback Paul Williams, on the recommendation of English assistant Graham Hughes.
Williams wouldn't release Springboks flanker Heinrich Brussow, who kept punching his arm trying to break free and protesting to the sideline official.
Williams retaliated with an open-hand push of his face. Brussow fell to the ground, an act Schwalger later described as "a little bit of acting."
But Williams became the first Samoan to be red-carded in the World Cup since Mata'afa Keenan in 1991.
Schwalger said that was a harsh call, too.
He said the South Africans got away with slowing down ruck ball, and were cheating in the scrums in the first half, "but we sorted it out later in the game."
In the end, Owens handed out 19 penalties, 10 against and nine to Samoa. But some decisions rankled the Samoans, especially when quicksilver wing David Lemi broke into open field in the 56th and was just dragged down by South Africa fullback Pat Lambie. Lemi was penalized for not releasing the ball, despite the fact he clearly wasn't held.
Schwalger and Owens kept up a running chatter as the skipper tried to understand the calls. At one point, Owens told him, "I'll never make a hooker and you'll never make a referee. Let me do my job."
Lock Kane Thompson was fortunate not to be yellow-carded in the first half for throwing a punch, not long after he'd been wrongly penalized for infringing in a maul. Regardless, the resulting penalty sent South Africa to a 13-0 lead.
Twice Owens had to overturn calls after receiving advice from touchline officials after incorrectly giving South Africa the advantage for knock-ons in general play that he should have ruled in Samoa's favor.
The Samoans wore armbands to honor the second anniversary of the deadly 2009 tsunami, which made them even more conscious of the people they were playing for.
They were emotional when they walked out before more than 29,000-plus crowd in North Harbour Stadium, and bitterly disappointed afterwards.
"Lots of guys are shedding tears," prop Census Johnston said. "They're not ready to go home."
Schwalger added: "This is the end of the road for us. The thing is, the team is going to do well in the next couple of years if they get a chance to play bigger teams. We'd give them a go. I hope we get a chance."
Samoa has proved that already, having beaten eventual Tri-Nations champion Australia in Sydney in July. At the World Cup, they narrowly missed a chance to beat Wales in Hamilton, then gave a good scare into the South Africans, whose previous six wins over Samoa had netted an average winning margin of 42.
"We've got to take a lot of positives out of this game," Johnston said. "Beating Australia earlier in the year, coming close to beating Wales, we are getting better. But the only way for us to get better is for the IRB to help us out."
The International Rugby Board has poured $2 million into opening a new High Performance Centre in Apia, but it's more games against the Tier One teams the two-time World Cup quarterfinalists Samoans want and need.
"No disrespect to Tonga and Japan, but playing in the Pacific Nations Cup is not good enough," Johnston said.
"I'm hoping the IRB can line us up against the top sides, like the All Blacks and Australia. I think we deserve it."