Eye patches all round as blind­ness epi­demic grows

Herald on Sunday - - IN OTHER NEWS - Paul Lewis paul.lewis@nzme.co.nz

Hard to know who was more blind — Ki­wis league cap­tain Dallin Watene-Zelez­niak af­ter be­ing eye­gouged, the ref­eree and TMO in Owen Farrell’s shoul­der charge against South Africa or Ian Fos­ter in his de­fence of Beau­den Bar­rett’s goal­kick­ing.

Let’s start with Farrell, now known as Venus — short for Venus de Milo (no arms). Ref­eree An­gus Gard­ner and TMO Olly Hodges some­how over­looked the fact Farrell did not use his arms when tack­ling An­dre Ester­huizen at the death. It’s an au­to­matic penalty.

Yel­low card? Maybe but no big deal if not. Red card? Nah. But it was a penalty.

Maybe it wasn’t blind­ness. Maybe it was the enor­mous pres­sure ex­erted by Twick­en­ham, a force that can sway judge­ment to a point like deny­ing South Africa a chance to kick the goal to win the match.

If so, we are talk­ing funk rather than blind­ness. Un­con­scious, maybe, but a funk.

The Boks may not have de­served to win; they squan­dered chances, made many ba­sic mis­takes and kicker Han­dre Pol­lard missed a penalty shortly be­fore Farrell did his im­pres­sion of a tor­pedo.

But it was a clear penalty and Gard­ner’s de­ci­sion not to award one will have di­min­ished him in the eyes of many.

Here’s a short list of peo­ple who would have been pe­nalised had they done what Farrell did against Eng­land at Twick­en­ham:

● Any Poly­ne­sian or Pasi­fika player

● Any All Black

● Any Aus­tralian

● Any French­man

● An­gus Gard­ner’s mum

On the league front, it may be sur­pris­ing to up­braid WateneZelez­niak but he may have a cock­eyed view that what hap­pens on the field stays on the field. His equiv­o­cat­ing about be­ing eye­gouged led him to say he wasn’t sure it was in­ten­tional.

In a long (not il­lus­tri­ous) rugby ca­reer, I was eye-gouged twice, once in New Zealand, once in the UK. Let me tell you — you know whether it is de­lib­er­ate or not. You feel the fin­gers search­ing for the eye socket. It is a to­tally dif­fer­ent feel­ing to a fin­ger ac­ci­den­tally jabbed in the eye.

Watene-Zelez­niak might have dragged on his big boy pants by pub­licly shrug­ging off what hap­pened. But here’s where he was blind: eye-goug­ing is right up there with tes­ti­cle-grab­bing and head­stomp­ing; per­pe­tra­tors de­serve to be pun­ished severely.

Sure enough, Eng­land for­ward Ge­orge Burgess, handed the op­por­tu­nity, said af­ter be­ing banned for four matches: “I want to make it com­pletely clear to ev­ery­one that it was never my in­ten­tion to ever gouge any­one. It is not in my make-up as a rugby league player and never has been. I ac­cept my pun­ish­ment but I will never ac­cept that I gouged a fel­low player’s eye in­ten­tion­ally. I have too much re­spect for the play­ers I play against and with.”

Our last eye-patch goes to All Blacks as­sis­tant coach Ian Fos­ter, who some­how man­aged to make Beau­den Bar­rett’s goal­kick­ing some sort of me­dia con­spir­acy.

“It’s more talked about by the me­dia than any­thing,” Fos­ter said when asked about Bar­rett’s kick­ing form (66 per cent this sea­son; 73 per cent ca­reer-wise). “I don’t see too many ar­ti­cles say­ing he’s kicked 11 out of 12 in the last three tests, but if he kicks two from six and two hit the posts, it’s like a na­tional calamity.”

Here’s the thing, Fossie — if he’s kick­ing 11 out of 12, he’s do­ing what an All Black kicker should be do­ing.

Bar­rett’s kick­ing has oc­ca­sional, alarm­ing off days. That can­not be de­nied af­ter the third Li­ons test last year and the lost Boks test this sea­son. Fos­ter dis­missed Bar­rett’s role in the Li­ons test, say­ing there were plenty of other fac­tors which led to that draw.

Yes — like an­other weirdo ref­er­ee­ing de­ci­sion and the fact the All Blacks blew chances in the first half. But even if ref Ro­main Poite hadn’t be­haved like a weather vane in a gale, there was no guar­an­tee Bar­rett would have kicked the goal that would have won the match — and the se­ries.

Goal­kick­ing is a ba­sic, par­tic­u­larly at test level. And if they were to lose the com­ing World Cup be­cause of poor goal­kick­ing, well, that would in­deed be a bit of a calamity.

The All Black panel have made a big noise about field­ing Damian McKen­zie along­side Bar­rett, in­ti­mat­ing it’s all about an­other creative op­tion to take the load off Bar­rett and put it on the op­po­si­tion.

Yes, but it also gives them an­other goal­kick­ing op­tion — some­thing this col­umn has con­sis­tently ad­vo­cated.

The panel have done bril­liantly yet again this year. But they have a co­nun­drum with Bar­rett. En­cour­age him to be No 1 kicker and take them all in the hope he bangs ’em all over? Or do you field an as­sis­tant play­maker who is also a gifted kicker? I think we know the an­swer to that.

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