Test Match Review

New Zealand vs France

16th June, 2018

Final Score: New Zealand 26 – France 13


Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Luke Pearce (England)
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.”

Those were the words with which I started my review of the first All Blacks vs France Test, just a week ago.

Here goes this week’s review:

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.

There will be much debate about whether the referee’s decision, aided of course by Officious George the blight of all blights on all TMOs, was the correct one and whether a red card was appropriate or not.

I for one, fully sympathize with referee Angus Gardiner. This was probably the most clear cut, yet immensely difficult decision of his entire refereeing career. If we apply the provisions of World Rugby’s Regulation 17 as they are written, Gardiner made the correct decision. He sent Benjamin Fall off.

He would have asked himself (and Officious George) whether the offence was reckless and whether Fall knew (or should have known) that there was a risk of committing an act of foul play. Reg 19.19.2.b) is the one that is relevant here.

Next up, Gardiner would have to ask what the effect of Fall’s actions had on the “victim” – Beauden Barrett – and what the extent of any injury to Barrett was, and whether he had to be removed from the game as a result. Reg 17.19.2.h) done and dusted. Barrett fell badly, was concussed and took no further part in the game.

Gardiner would also have had to consider the effect of the offence on the Match. There are two aspects to consider. The All Blacks lost their playmaker-in-chief, and the French were down to 14 players for the bulk of the Test Match. Reg 17.19.2.i) is involved.

Finally, Gardiner would have to ask a question about the vulnerability of the “victim Player” including what part of victim’s body was involved/affected, the position of the “victim Player,”  and his ability to defend himself; Reg 17.19.2.j) is the one.

If we sit back and look at all of the above with calm logic, there is no doubt that Benjamin Fall would be found to have been reckless and should have known that there could be serious consequences for his chasing and attempting to catch the ball. The effect on Barrett and the game was obvious, a key player was out with concussion and the offending team was deprived of a player.

Barret was extremely vulnerable as he jumped for the ball. (There must be a question about whether he exposed himself to unreasonable risk when he jumped, but rugby’s Laws are silent in this regard.)

(One has to ask, of course, if the effect on Barrett was such that a red card was the correct sanction, why was Ofa Tu’ungafasi not sent off last week when his shoulder fractured the skull of Remy Grosso? Why did the Citing Commissioner not apply Reg 17.19.2.h) and suggest that Tu’ungafasi face a Judicial enquiry? )

In terms of the Law and it’s supporting Regulations, there can be no doubt that Gardiner’s decision to whip out the red card is 100% correct.

Of course, this being rugby and rugby administrators and judicial commissioners being a wayward clan on a mission of their own, the Independent Judicial Committee promptly threw Angus Gardiner under the nearest bus and said the red card decision was wrong. They have expunged the card from Fall’s record and no further action will be taken.

In their learned view, Fall was nudged into Barret’s path by Anton Lienert-Brown!

They said: “The committee noted that Fall had his eyes on the ball at all times and had no intention of collecting Barrett. They also established Fall only made contact with Barrett because the initial line of his contest was altered by a slight collision with All Blacks midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown.

“This collision then causes the player to lose his balance, stumble and be propelled or pushed towards the path of [Barrett]. By reason of those matters the player’s attempt to contest the ball was compromised,”

Which may all be true, and based on that logic, it also says that the fairest call would have been “Play On!” – Yet Rugby’s Laws and Regulations make no mention of such interpretations. The written word simply says Fall was guilty, despite the emotion and fairness of the call.

Also, if we look at precedent that has been set in previous Judicial Committee decisions, the fact that the player has his “eyes on the ball” and has “no intention” of making contact has never been considered a mitigating factor in making judicial findings. In every instance they have sanctioned the player for “not being in a realistic position to compete for the ball” and for not having due concern for the player they are competing against.

Why then, this time, do they sidestep their previous findings and look for any mitigating factor that they can possibly find?

I must emphasise that I fully agree that Benjamin Fall should not have received a red card, the incident was simply “one of those things” that happen in rugby. Yet this incident also serves to showcase exactly what is wrong with Rugby’s Law Book and the way it is written and applied.

It is all so very stupid and makes rugby something of a laughing stock!

Sadly, the incident also served to distract us all from the actual Rugby Test and what happened on the field of play.

To call a spade a spade: the All Blacks were close to dreadful despite their victory. The World Champions, playing against 14 men, should have stretched the game completely out of sight.

They did not.

The mighty All Blacks had a very ordinary night.

Yes, they scored a couple of decent tries to ensure they actually won.

In reality there was nothing convincing about their performance.

They were mostly inaccurate and loose, disjointed and random. So very different from the clinical crispness of the All Blacks at their best. A week ago they produced 30 minutes of sublime rugby. This week they produced 80 minutes of dire uninspiring boredom.

It was almost as if the red card robbed them of their focus. It looked as if they thought that by being a man up in numbers, that they had the Test won.

There certainly was none of the hard work and graft the All Blacks usually produce for a win.

The French monstered them at the breakdown. Quick to the ball, they forced the All Blacks onto the back foot. In contrast the All Blacks were inaccurate when they got there, lost the ball too often, and often threw poor passes when they did secure the ball.

This game also revealed a very different attitude from the French. Many French sides of the past would have simply thrown in the towel and gone through the motions after Fall’s red card. The 2018 squad did not do that! They toiled and fought all afternoon.

Cedate Gomes Sa’s late try was a fitting reward for a team that never gave up.  The French actually won the second half of the game 7-5, which has caused many All Black supporters to get the mutters.

Morgan Parra had a great game, showing his class and experience, with superior game management and leadership, despite the attentions of the likes of Sam Cane, who was repeating his performance of a week ago when he played right to the outside edge of legality.

The French forwards also deserve a nod. They took the game to the All Black pack, and achieved parity in all phases, even having a slight edge in the scrums.

The All Blacks have much thinking to do if they want to beat France again next week!

Final thought: The game was scrappy, uninspiring, and error ridden for most of the day. Not worth watching again.

The scorers:

For New Zealand:
Tries: Moody, B Smith, J Barrett 2
Cons: McKenzie 3
Yellow Card: Perenara

For France:
Try: Gomes Sa
Con: Plisson
Pens: Parra 2
Red Card: Fall

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 Benjamin Fall, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud (c), 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Gael Fickou, 10 Anthony Belleau, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Kelian Gourdon, 7 Kélian Galletier, 6 Mathieu Babillot, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Bernard le Roux, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Dany Priso
Replacements: 16 Pierre Bourgarit, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Cedate Gomes Sa, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Jules Plisson, 23 Maxime Médard