Dis­ci­pline vi­tal for ABs with Garces on the whis­tle

The Southland Times - - Sport - Marc Hin­ton

The All Blacks should be afraid. Very afraid. Not of Eng­land, who will likely pro­vide their usual mus­cu­lar, com­mit­ted but lim­ited chal­lenge at Twick­en­ham early to­mor­row (NZT), but of the man with the whis­tle.

French­man Jerome Garces will con­trol the All Blacks’ test against Ed­die Jones’ Eng­land side that will open the north­ern por­tion of their end-of-year tour.

That alone should have Steve Hansen’s men on high alert, not to men­tion their best be­hav­iour. They well know that Garces is a staunch dis­ci­plinar­ian who is not afraid to bran­dish a card when he con­sid­ers the sit­u­a­tion mer­its.

And when it comes to the All Blacks the French­man has thrown out more cards than a Las Ve­gas hold’em dealer.

Garces has ref­er­eed New Zea­land in 10 tests since 2012 and has dished out a card to an All Black in seven of those in­ter­na­tion­als. That’s a trend Hansen’s men will be wise to fac­tor into their pre-match strate­gies.

High up some­where on the white­board has to be a mes­sage along th­ese lines: do not let Jerome Garces de­cide this match. Trans­la­tion: stay dis­ci­plined.

This is test rugby: a hugely abra­sive and phys­i­cal con­test played out un­der laws that of­fer less and less mar­gin for er­ror for those in the midst of the im­pact zone. Rugby has de­ter­mined – cor­rectly – to pro­tect the head area of its play­ers, and along with that has come a hardline stance from ref­er­ees.

Garces is one of those whistle­blow­ers who takes his laws very se­ri­ously and is not afraid to make a big de­ci­sion that can swing a test match.

It is no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to sug­gest he has the po­ten­tial to in­flu­ence this con­test dra­mat­i­cally.

The All Blacks, of course, have al­ready seen first-hand the French­man’s un­com­pro­mis­ing stance on trans­gres­sions.

The most in­fa­mous of those was the red card dished out to mid­fielder Sonny Bill Wil­liams in the sec­ond test against the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Li­ons in Welling­ton last year. In fact, Garces was a cen­tral fig­ure in a con­tro­ver­sial se­ries of of­fi­ci­at­ing de­ci­sions that played a big part in the All Blacks’ se­ries against the Li­ons fin­ish­ing in a his­toric 1-1 stale­mate.

In Welling­ton he, cor­rectly, sent Wil­liams off for his shoul­der charge to the head of Li­ons wing An­thony Wat­son. But in the same test, won 24-21 by the tourists, he also ne­glected to pun­ish Sean O’Brien for a sim­i­lar trans­gres­sion against Waisake Na­holo.

There were also sev­eral other border­line calls, in­clud­ing a cru­cial late penalty on Char­lie Fau­muina for a mid-air tackle, that went against the All Blacks.

Then, in the de­cid­ing third test, he was in the thick of things as a vol­u­ble as­sis­tant when ref­eree Ro­main Poite made the con­tro­ver­sial – and in­cor­rect – call to change his de­ci­sion to award the All Blacks a kick­able late penalty for Ken Owens’ play at the ball from an off­side po­si­tion.

With Poite ap­par­ently in­vited to re­con­sider his de­ci­sion by his ad­vis­ers, the ref­eree took the ex­tra­or­di­nary mea­sure of chang­ing his call when there was no video ev­i­dence to sup­port such a course of ac­tion.

Garces has ref­er­eed the All Blacks once since the Li­ons se­ries, tak­ing charge of their 25-24 vic­tory over South Africa in Cape Town last year in which he sent Boks back Damian de Al­lende off late in the match for a late hit on Lima Sopoaga.

There is no sug­ges­tion that Garces is any­thing but a staunch dis­ci­plinar­ian as a ref­eree, though the con­spir­acy the­o­rists did have a field day with the way things played out over the fi­nal two tests of the Li­ons se­ries.

But the All Blacks will be very wise to tread care­fully around him this week­end.

They are a su­pe­rior side to Eng­land in al­most ev­ery facet of the game, but if their lack of dis­ci­pline al­lows him to in­ter­vene, then there is the po­ten­tial for the axis to shift on a big call or two.

If Hansen’s men play the rugby they are ca­pa­ble of within the lim­its of the game’s laws then they should win this test match to set up splen­didly next week­end’s clash of the hemi­spheres against Joe Sch­midt’s Ire­land.

But if they al­low Garces to reach for yet an­other card, well, any­thing could hap­pen. They have been warned.

GETTY IMAGES

France’s Jerome Garces is a fa­mil­iar fig­ure as a ref­eree for the All Blacks.

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