Bloemfontein — Australia coach Michael Cheika gave a world-class lesson in spin and deflection as he defended fullback Israel Folau who tackled Springbok wing Dillyn Leyds by the hair.
Cheika tried to make the incident all about Bok captain Eben Etzebeth’s reaction as he barged in to protect Leyds‚ leading to an off-the-ball scuffle late in the first half of the 27-27 draw in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The Wallaby coach‚ who is never shy to have a whinge about officials or the opposition‚ took exception when he was asked about the hair pulling.
"Have you ever played rugby mate?" he shot at his inquisitor. "If you have you’ll know that no one does that in rugby. Watch the vision. Watch the vision again. He got him by the collar. Israel didn’t take him by the hair. No one in rugby does that‚ forget about it‚ it’s a nonissue."
Only that repeated viewings of the "vision’ show Folau pulling Leyds by the hair. To make matters worse for the Wallabies‚ Leyds confirmed he had his hair pulled.
"I was 100% tackled by the hair‚" said Leyds‚ who made his run-on debut for the Springboks. "He actually caught me by the hair twice. He had one go at it. Then he got his left hand on it and pulled me down and had another go at it. I don’t know what their version is‚ but 100%, I was pulled by the hair."
But Cheika preferred to turn his attention to Etzebeth‚ who recklessly launched himself at Folau in retaliation.
"He [Folau] grabbed the guy around the collar‚ so okay‚ that’s a high tackle‚" Cheika said.
"Then the other bloke [Etzebeth] comes in charging with an elbow. He doesn’t make contact, but he was heading that way.
"Nothing is said about it by the officials. The captain of the other team comes charging in‚ and just because he doesn’t get him [Folau]‚ nothing is said about it. What if he did? What then?"
By Sunday morning, Sanzaar had yet to issue a statement on whether there would be any further action taken against Folau‚ who was lucky to escape a yellow card for his silly act.
Cheika rightly pointed out some officiating mistakes that plagued the game.
Referee Ben O’Keefe did not have his best day. He missed a huge forward pass by fullback Andries Coetzee in a play that eventually led to a Bok penalty in the final minute.
Bok flyhalf Elton Jantjies missed the kick‚ but the visitors could have lost due to a howler.
"Ben [O’Keefe] is going to be a very good referee because he has a very good temperament‚" Cheika said. "But he missed a lot of forward passes and knock-ons and it was disappointing for us that when the [Bok] penalty that equalised the game was awarded‚ [Pieter-Steph] du Toit was offside in the ruck.
"Then a few minutes later‚ down the other side of the field‚ when Michael [Hooper] makes a tackle on [Elton] Jantjies‚ he makes a second grab at the ball on the ground.
"That’s playing the ball on the ground and should be a penalty for us‚ right in front with three minutes to go. These are keys moments."