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Saturday, 29 September 2007
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Officials defend decision to play foggy farce 

CHRISTCHURCH — New Zealand rugby officials have defended the decision to go ahead with the fog-bound Super 14 rugby final on Saturday.

But they admitted that the match would have been postponed if it was any thicker.

The match was reduced to a farce at times in the pea-souper that shrouded Jade Stadium, where the Crusaders emerged from the ghostly white surroundings as 19-12 victors over their opponents, the Hurricanes.

Well-rehearsed game plans were dropped in favour of high up-and-unders, with the white ball disappearing into the white mist and players waiting to hear where it would fall.

The Crusaders scored the only try — to Casey Laulala midway through the second spell — with the remaining points coming from penalties.

Canterbury rugby union CE Hamish Riach said there was consultation with both teams, match officials, broadcasters, the New Zealand Rugby Union and tournament governing body Sanzar just before the scheduled kickoff, and all agreed the game should proceed. “In the end it was a relatively comfortable decision in that nobody was saying it should be called off,” he said.

“It may not have had to get too much worse (to be called off) but the collective view was that the game should proceed.”

The fog may have restricted viewing but it exposed a little-known rule which bars coaches from viewing the game from the opposite sideline from where the team is based.

The lack of visibility across the field prompted Hurricanes assistant coach Aussie McLean to go to the far side of the field where little or no play could otherwise be seen.

However, an official quickly told him to leave the area and return to his seat.

Several frustrated spectators with tickets to the upper reaches of the main grandstand, realised soon after the kick-off that they would not be able to see the match and they decided to leave the ground in search of bars showing the game on television.

Others spent the night with their backs to the playing field so they could watch the game on the big screen at the southern end of the ground.

There were further problems at full time when the Canterbury union let off celebratory fireworks and the subsequent smoke merely served to thicken the already dense fog, making it nearly impossible for any of the spectators still gathered at the ground to see the victory ceremony at all. Sapa-AFP

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