Test Match Review

New Zealand vs France

9th June, 2018

Final Score: New Zealand 52 – France 11


Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), John Lacey (Ireland)
Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)

 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.

Luke Pearce was the man with the whistle. One cannot but speculate on the mind gymnastics of the World Rugby administrators that gave him the whistle in such a big Test match as his debut game into the Tier One world. Surely you ease a new boy into the game? Let him run the line a couple of times. Give him a Test or two when a series has been decided, those infamous “dead rubber” games. Maybe a “friendly” or two? Not straight in at the deep end of the pool with the All Blacks playing France?

Whatever the thinking, it was not Luke Pearce’s fault that he was in charge of this game. He was simply sent to do the job.

And he was doing a pretty decent job right up to the 51st minute.

He had shown Aaron Smith that he was not going to allow him to wave his arms and dictate terms to the referee as is his wont. He had firmly told Sam Whitelock that it was his job to make decisions and not Sam’s job to tell him what the decision should be.

For the first time in a very very long time a referee was policing the off-side line at the rucks.

All that was good. He was doing something that many of the senior referees have neglected to do for far too long. He was stopping the back-chatting, the frantic demands for penalties, and the constant quibbling right from the get-go. No verbal “diving” was allowed.

But then the 51st minute rolled around and Pearce whipped out a yellow card for an innocuous “high tackle” by French lock Paul Gabrillague when the score was locked at 11-all. Pearce’s first mistake was in handing out the yellow card for a tackle that did not meet the criteria for a yellow card. His second mistake, vastly more serious, was in not asking his TMO for a review and an opinion. If you are going to dish out a card that might just be a game changer, you had better use every resource available to you to ensure that your decision was correct.

It was a wrong decision, and it was a game changer too.

To make matters worse, perennial interferer, George Ayoub was the TMO, and he simply loves to get involved in the game. He always, but always, interferes with his “check, check” calls for possible foul play. He has made game changing decisions all of his own up in the TMO box when nobody else has seen the incident, nor agrees with his interpretation when the footage is reviewed.

Except this time. The over-officious George was silent. He offered no advice to Pearce. It was simple and clear dereliction of duty by George Ayoub!

As I said, the decision was a game changer. Paul Gabrillague had not yet settled into the naughty chair when the All Blacks scored the first of their seven second half tries.

And then they scored two more while he was off the field.

You cannot play against a rampant All Blacks outfit if you are a man down.

But, sadly, that was not the end of Luke Pearce’s foul-ups.

The All Blacks could have, probably should have, been a man or even two down for 10 minutes instead of a man up, when the game was still in the balance.

In the 58th minute Remy Grosso was hit simultaneously by both Sam Cane and Ofa Tuungafasi. (Tuungafasi had only been on the field for a minute when this incident happened!)

Same Cane’s tackle was clearly high, with a swinging arm to the jaw. It was a very clear yellow card incident. He knew it! You could see the look on his face when the whistle blew.

As Cane’s high tackle took place, Tuungafasi joined the tackle and made contact with his shoulder to Grosso’s head. Grosso’s anger at the high hits was evident when he threw the ball at the prop in protest.

The Tuungafasi offence was not perhaps quite as clear as Cane’s offence, but it is the player’s responsibility not to make a tackle or contact in the wrong place. Tuungafasi’s hit was equally worthy of a yellow card! We have seen yellows dished out for far more innocuous offences, such as the card shown to Paul Gabrillague just 7 minutes earlier!

Once again, Luke Pearce did not refer the incident to Officious George, nor did George offer any advice! This despite Remy Grosso’s game being over as he had to leave the field with a head injury sustained in the tackle! There is the clue, Luke – it was a head injury in a tackle – surely you must have a look?

The entire match officiating system broke down right there!

Bluntly, it is highly unlikely that both players would get yellow carded for the same incident, but this doesn’t dilute the injustice. At the very least Sam Cane should have been off the field for the requisite 10 minutes.

I have no doubt that the All Blacks would have gone on to win the game, even if the French had been at their full complement for the entire 80 minutes.  France must be given due praise for their first half. Theirs was a real show of character as they hung in after an enormously long season of domestic rugby, a 6-Nations tournament, and last year’s end-of-year silly season tours. Fatigue was going to be an issue at some stage, but the French hung in and fought right through the first half of the game.

Once the second half kicked off New Zealand were visibly starting to shake off the rust and find their game, the result was probably inevitable, but the Gabrillagues yellow card simply made it easier for the home side. From that moment on, the All Blacks were supreme. They turned on the style and scored seven tries and 44 points in a half of superb rugby.

With hooker Codie Tylor leading from the front and the likes of Beauden Barrett and Ryan Crotty calling the shots at the back the sheer inevitability of the final score was simply a question of “How Much?”

And then there was the bench!

The All Blacks have depth of such quality that every other team in the world can only be green with envy. When they unleashed Damian McKenzie he simply tore the French defences to ribbons. Add in Ngani Laumape and Ardie Savea and you have world class players waiting to hammer home their quality the moment they get the nod. All three those substitutes scored tries!

One special moment deserves mention, when all three Barrett brothers were involved in a move that ended with Beauden Barrett scoring in the corner. It might be the only time that ever happens in the world of rugby!

Sadly, refereeing blunders and a silent TMO robbed the game of the contest it should have been.

For the record:

The All Blacks scored seven second-half tries in what must be deemed a slightly flattering 52-11 victory over France at Eden Park on Saturday.

After Beauden Barrett’s sole first-half score, Codie Taylor, Ben Smith, Rieko Ioane (2), Damian McKenzie, Ngani Laumape and Ardie Savea got themselves on the scoresheet as the French scored just the one try through Remy Grosso.

The scorers:

For New Zealand:
Tries: B Barrett, Taylor, Smith, Ioane 2, McKenzie, Laumape, Savea
Cons: Barrett 3
Pens: Barrett 2

For France:
Try: Grosso
Pens: Parra 2
Yellow Card: Gabrillagues

The Teams:

New Zealand: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock (c), 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Damian McKenzie, 23 Ngani Laumape

France: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud (c), 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Remy Grosso, 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fabien Sanconnie, 7 Kelian Gourdon, 6 Judicaël Cancoriet, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Paul Gabrillagues, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Dany Priso
Replacements: 16 Adrien Pélissié, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Bernard Le Roux, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Jules Plisson, 23 Gael Fickou