Test Match Review

New Zealand vs France

3rd Test

23rd June, 2018

Final Score: New Zealand 49 – France 14


Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)


History has a way of repeating itself:

The opening paragraph of my review of the 1st Test between New Zealand and France reads:

“Oy Vey!

A Test Match between New Zealand and France, and what happens?

Somewhat predictably, the conversation immediately turns to the referees and their “bias” towards New Zealand. It is all about yellow cards and no-cards as the world focusses on two incidents in the test match that, arguably, decided the Test and the outcome of the series in just those few seconds.”

The referee was Luke Pearce of England. Australian George Ayoub was the TMO.

My review of the 2nd Test started:

“Oy Vey!

A Test Match between New Zealand and France, and what happens?

Somewhat predictably, the conversation immediately turns to the referees and their “bias” towards New Zealand.

Déjà vu?

Yep, once again the referee and his support staff are in the spotlight as a red card was shown to French fullback Benjamin Fall.”

On this occasion the referee was Angus Gardiner of Australia. Once again, George Ayoub was the TMO.

And now for the third Test:

Unfortunately it has all happened again.

For the third time in three weeks there is a controversial decision by a referee that favours New Zealand. This time involves the third of the referees appointed to the panel of Match Officials for this series.  This week it is John Lacey of Ireland who stands illuminated in the spotlight. And, once again, George Ayoub was the TMO.

Lacey’s opportunity to help the All Blacks win the game came in the 31st minute when he was clearly in the way of Baptiste Serin who was attempting to get to Damian McKenzie as he burst for the goal line. Replays suggest that he had more than a fair chance of tackling McKenzie, although the flyhalf’s momentum may have carried him to the line.

Whatever momentum may have done or not, Lacey very clearly blocked Serin and prevented the tackle. Lacey was adamant it was a fair try, however he eventually relented and called for a TMO replay. Sadly, Officious George Ayoub was, once again, guilty of dereliction of duty as he made no comment about the events.  Lacey again said that he was happy that it was a fair try. Even the New Zealand commentators were flabbergasted at the decision.

It is truly sad that the incompetence of the Match Officials should be the chief topic of conversation when there was so much more to talk about in this Test Match and in the series that has just ended..

It is equally sad that Steve Hansen should instinctively jump to the defence of the referee on every occasion, rather than providing a measured, considered response to such obvious blunders as have marred the 3 Tests in this series.

“I know the rule book reasonably well – I’ve read it for years,” Hansen said. “As a player I thought I was a better ref than a player, and there’s nowhere in the rule book that says a referee can cause obstruction.

“He’s got to stand somewhere and it’s not our fault that our guy [McKenzie] ran close to where he was standing.

“It’s happened to us a few times in the past. People are clutching at straws there – what do they want him to do; click his fingers and disappear or something?”

Hansen is perhaps technically correct, the Laws do not provide specific instructions in the event of a referee impeding a player who is not carrying the ball.

Law 7.3.a) says:

  1. Advantage must not be applied and the referee must blow the whistle immediately when: a) The ball or a player in possession of the ball, touches the referee and an advantage is gained by either side.

It is a simple, common sense, extrapolation of the Law to suggest that if the referee touches a player so that advantage is gained by either side the whistle should be blown immediately.

Suggesting that the referee cannot do that is to ignore the fact that they already interpret and apply other Laws differently to the actual written word.

Hansen’s subsequent calls for World Rugby to change the Laws, the functions of the match officials and interpretations and clean them up seems to be a bit too late.

For the French, a third controversial decision in as many Tests provided irrefutable evidence that the match officials were against them from the start. After Paul Gabrillagues’ clearly incorrect yellow card at Eden Park, followed by the blind-eye turned to the skull fracturing double-act of Sam Cane and Ofa Tu’ungafasi,  and then the first-half sending off of Benjamin Fall in Wellington – which World Rugby’s judiciary said was a mistake by Angus Gardner, the clear obstruction by John Lacey is simply the icing on the cake.

The world watches with interest whether World Rugby will take any action whatsoever against John Lacey, Angus Gardner and Luke Pearce, the three referees, or whether they will simply be let off the hook?

Television match official George Ayoub is another who should have his performance closely examined. He should never be allowed near a TMO box again.

Back To the Third Test:

It was fortunate that Lacey’s lapse was not crucial to the result; the All Blacks’ second half performance saw to that. Even the French coach, Jacques Brunel, said as much.

Brunel must be a little frustrated with his team as his side failed to kick on after their impressive second-half showing in Wellington last week, where they finished the stronger side. Just like the first Test, France came out to play in Dunedin, and were competitive, even dominating some periods during the early stages of the third Test. The new-look All Black combination were still finding their feet as France took an early 7-0 lead,  and France were still in the game at half-time with New Zealand leading 21-14. The signs were ominous, though, the All Blacks were starting to click, and their game was picking up speed.

After the break it was a whole new ball game. The All Blacks turned on the style as the visitors faded badly and seemed to vanish from the game.

Damien McKenzie:

Many questions have been asked about Damian McKenzie’s suitability at flyhalf. Many New Zealanders feel that he is best suited to the fullback position, especially as an impact player later in the game.

I think we can safely say that he has passed the flyhalf test with flying colours.

Stepping into Beauden Barrett’s shoes was never going to be easy, but McKenzie did, and delivered an outstanding performance at 10.

It was not flawless – that is not the McKenzie way. He is a risk taker, opting for the high risk, high reward approach to everything he does on the rugby field. When you play like that there will inevitably be mistakes. Against France he kicked a clearance way too far and directly into touch, he threw two intercept passes, and there was a kick-off that did not go the required 10m in the 2nd half. But in amongst the mistakes he was simply outstanding.

He scored two tries of his own, and was involved in two of Reiko Ioane’s three.  His playmaking skills were on show as he picked, tickled and teased the French defences. Short passes, long passes, chip kicks and grubbers, steps and jinks, it was all on show. He was also faultless from the kicking tee, slotting seven out of seven to finish with a personal tally of 24 points.

Have no doubt, this 23-year old is going to cause problems for a whole lot of teams in the future.

The Barrett Brood:

The Barrett family certainly has some kind of genetic superiority over others. Three brothers, three current All Blacks. Even without Beauden and Jordie in the starting XV on Saturday, it was a Barrett brother that stood up to be counted. Scott Barrett is the family forward, the muscle amongst the silky skilled backs. He had an outstanding game as he locked the scrum in the place of the injured Brodie Retallick. Carrying the ball 7 times, he also made 17 tackles as he flung himself into every facet of the game.

The Rookies:

The depth of New Zealand’s playing resources never ceases to amaze. For a country that has fewer registered players that most other countries, just 156 000 registered players (according to World Rugby’s 2017 report) New Zealand is blessed with amazing depth. This week they handed Tests debuts to Shannon Frizell and Jack Goodhue, who were both in the starting line-up, along with Jackson Hemopo and Richie Mo’unga, who came off the replacements bench.

All four looked the part and can be happy with their debut performances. Frizell was unlucky to be denied a try by the Television Match Official.

The Final Word:

Whatever the refereeing controversies that surround this series, New Zealand wrapped up a 3-0 series victory over France at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday, running out 49-14 winners in a seven-try showing.

Ben Smith, Matt Todd, Damian McKenzie (2) and a hat-trick from Rieko Ioane saw them to the victory, with McKenzie faultless off the tee.

In reply France’s try scorers were Baptiste Serin and Wesley Fofana, both of which came in the first-half, before the team’s second half collapse.

Eddie Jones has suggested that new Zealand are ripe for the plucking, while South African rugby writer and columnist Mark Keohane suggested that they will finish third in this year’s Rugby Championships.  “The Springboks will win the Rugby Championship. The All Blacks won’t finish in the top two,” said Keohane as he celebrated Rassie Erasmus’ and his team’s series win over England.

I would not be quite so confident. If the All Blacks continue to play the kind of rugby they produced in the second half of this third Test, very few teams in the world will stop them.

The scorers:

For New Zealand:
Tries: B Smith, Todd, McKenzie 2, Ioane 3
Cons: McKenzie 7

For France:
Tries: Serin, Fofana
Cons: Belleau 2

The Teams:

New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Samuel Whitelock (c), 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Jackson Hemopo, 20 Matt Todd, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Jordie Barrett

France: 15 Benjamin Fall, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Remi Lamerat, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Gael Fickou, 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Morgan Parra (c), 8 Kevin Gourdon, 7 Kelian Galletier, 6 Mathieu Babillot, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Bernard Le Roux, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Dany Priso
Replacements: 16 Adrien Pelissie, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Cedate Gomes Sa, 19 Felix Lambey, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Jules Plisson, 23 Maxime Medard