France fullback had to go for taking Barrett in the air
The spotlight was on the All Blacks but it was France who felt the referee’s wrath
RBarrett’s hip, tipping Barrett to the ground.
The sickening impact of Barrett’s head on the ground left Gardner, as he said himself, ‘‘with no alternative’’ but to send Fall off.
Say whatever you like about intent, the fact is that if Ofa Tu’ungafasi’s shoulder hitting poor Remy Grosso’s head last week was, as World Rugby (still as incompetent as when they were called the IRB) said, close to the line for a red, but not over it, Fall’s failing was technical, but technical in an area where necks can be broken. He had to go. Last week after the ridiculous yellow card for Paul Gabrillagues the French basically chucked the towel in.
Does that automatically mean the game is over when a card is flashed? No, and for a long time France showed that on Saturday night in Wellington.
But does playing 15 against 14 for almost 70 minutes have huge potential to rob fans, paying a lazy $100 or more for a ticket, of a close contest? Of course.
It might be hard to convince hide-bound officials at world level, but how better might it be to have massive fines for a red card, while allowing a replacement for the offender?
As for the All Blacks, the serial critics will be honing in on two areas.
One was that the French showing was vastly aided by very uncharacteristic All Black mistakes, both tactical and technical. Tactically there were attacks that went left, when the overlap was on the right. Technically ball retention was sloppy. As a frustrated Ian Foster said at halftime of the lack of composure, ‘‘You would have thought we’d got the red card.’’
The other is that 10 minutes into the second half referee Gardner was saying to All Blacks captain Sam Whitelock that one more penalty for infringing on defence and he’d take ‘‘further action’’, and 12 minutes later TJ Perenara was in the bin.
Which will naturally add power to the arm of those who see the All Blacks as long term, calculating cheats, a claim that led to the unusual situation during the week of coach Steve Hansen saying, ‘‘We’ve been called cheats for 100 years.’’
Hansen is wrong. It’s actually 113 years.
When the 1905 All Blacks went to Britain it was claimed they were being sneaks because at the time New Zealanders played 45 minutes each way at home. In Britain they played 35 minutes per half, so how could the British players, moaned their media, be as fit?
After that came the British deluge. In 1930 the Lions manager called the All Black wing forward, who put the ball into a seven-man scrum, a cheat. Next year they changed the law and banned the position. In ‘59 the All Blacks wore shoulder pads. The Lions called them cheats. In ‘78 Frank Oliver and Andy Haden fell out of a lineout against Wales. OK, we actually did cheat that time.
Sid Going was called a cheat for how he fed the scrum in the 70s. ‘‘You put the blinky thing in then,’’ the Mormon non-swearer told one English referee.
Richie McCaw was called a GETTY IMAGES cheat, and he cast a spell over referees. Now our crowds wearing black are said to do the same thing.
The reality with tackling, the most contentious real issue in the game, is that in modern rugby all over the world, certainly not just in New Zealand, coaches have trained tacklers to hit in the chest area, rather than around the legs.
Why? Because the ability to off-load in a tackle, once a rare skill, is now commonplace, as professional players become more and more expert. Low tackles don’t stop the off-load.
The problem, and it is a problem, is with how the game has developed, not with one team using dark arts while others are innocents.
The All Blacks sometimes get their tackles wrong. It can lead to brutal consequences. But the mistakes are also made by every other side in the international game. To suggest otherwise is to be at best disingenuous. At worst, it’s indulging in sheer malice, possibly driven by jealousy.
Benjamin Fall leaves the field after being sent off.