It sounds faintly ridicu­lous to be think­ing there is a con­spir­acy against the All Blacks, but when the ev­i­dence of the last 10 years is re­viewed… maybe not.


NZ Rugby World - - Contents - Gre­gor Paul with the story.

The All Blacks, as they will read­ily ad­mit, haven’t al­ways cov­ered them­selves in glory when they have trav­elled north of the equa­tor.

There have been mul­ti­ple in­ci­dents that have left a sour taste and bur­dened them with a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing un­smil­ing, ruth­less al­most sadis­tic thugs and bul­lies.

In 1991 one writer sug­gested they had marched into Ire­land ahead of the semi­fi­nal against the Wal­la­bies, “with all the gai­ety of grave dig­gers”. That hit the nail on the head. Some of the ob­vi­ous re­sent­ment felt to­wards the All Blacks in the old world was the di­rect re­sult of spe­cific acts.

The Welsh have never fully for­given Andy Haden for div­ing out of a li­ne­out in 1978 to con the ref­eree into award­ing a win­ning penalty.

There is also, still, bad feel­ing about a game be­tween the All Blacks and Brid­gend where prop John Ash­worth stomped vi­ciously on the head of lo­cal leg­end JPR Wil­liams.

Eng­land had a gripe with the way Jamie Joseph stamped on the an­kle of Kieran Bracken in 1993 and the Scots firmed on their feel­ings about the All Blacks in 1967 when Colin Meads was sent off at Mur­ray­field.

Some of the ran­cour, though, was formed not by any­thing un­just or reck­less, but by this sense that the All Blacks were mer­ci­less: driven to win at all costs and will­ing to cross lines where oth­ers feared to tread.

They gave off a vibe that rubbed a more Corinthi­an­spir­ited North up the wrong way and per­haps years of ill-feel­ing came to the boil in 2005 when Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu es­caped any sanc­tion for their role in the in­fa­mous Brian O’Driscoll spear tackle saga.

The Lions skip­per was tipped on his head in the first minute of the first test, which led to his shoul­der dis­lo­cat­ing and his tour end­ing.

Nei­ther Mealamu nor Umaga were even re­quired to at­tend a ju­di­cial hear­ing af­ter the in­ci­dent was dis­missed by the cit­ing com­mis­sioner and all four home na­tions were out­raged at such dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand le­niency.

Bad feel­ing lin­gered and in­ten­si­fied and there maybe even be­came a sub­lim­i­nal pres­sure ex­erted on World Rugby by the North who wanted to see some kind of ret­ri­bu­tion.

By the end of 2006, the All Blacks were miles ahead as the best side in the world. They had come through the pre­vi­ous two years only los­ing twice and were red hot favourites to win the 2007 World Cup.

At the same time there was a des­per­a­tion for the North­ern Hemi­sphere to make a strong ac­count of it­self and, as far-fetched as this may seem, there was through­out that tour­na­ment a faint sense of the All Blacks be­ing ham­pered by of­fi­cial­dom.

There was the whole busi­ness of them hav­ing to play first in Ed­in­burgh then in Cardiff. Why ask the tour­na­ment’s big­gest draw­card to play in the out­posts that had been given one-off games in re­turn for their vote at the host­ing bid?

More wor­ry­ingly was the rev­e­la­tion that shortly be­fore play­ing Por­tu­gal, a World Rugby of­fi­cial is be­lieved to have asked the All Blacks to take it easy in the scrums. There were gen­uine fears some­one could be hurt if the All Blacks went at Por­tu­gal hard.

It was crazy – there the All Blacks were at the pin­na­cle event of the world game be­ing asked to take it easy, while in the other three pools, there were epic, full-blooded con­tests set­ting the tour­na­ment alight.

This was hardly good prepa­ra­tion for what lay ahead, and of course there was then the débâ­cle of France be­ing al­lowed to wear their dark blue jer­seys to force the All Blacks out of their pre­ferred shirt and the ap­point­ment of 28-year-old Wayne Barnes as the ref­eree for that quar­ter-fi­nal clash.

It was a wildly am­bi­tious call by World Rugby to give such a big game to such an in­ex­pe­ri­enced ref­eree and five years later, for­mer All Blacks cap­tain Richie McCaw gave his thoughts in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy.

“I don’t blame Barnes, but I do blame the peo­ple who ap­pointed the most in­ex­pe­ri­enced ref­eree on the ros­ter


to a RWC quar­ter-fi­nal be­tween the hosts and the favourites,” he wrote.

“I thought both teams de­served a ref­eree with ex­pe­ri­ence. My beef isn’t with Barnes so much as with his in­ex­pe­ri­ence. This was Barnes’ big­gest game by far. On the big stage, an in­ex­pe­ri­enced ref­eree is likely to be­come so afraid of mak­ing a mis­take that he stops mak­ing any de­ci­sions at all.

“By the end of it, I thought Barnes was frozen with fear and wouldn’t make any big calls.”

The All Blacks were the ma­jor ar­chi­tects of their own fail­ure at the 2007 World Cup, but the sus­pi­cion that there were other forces at work never dis­si­pated.

If see­ing the All Blacks spec­tac­u­larly fail in 2007 was pay­back of sorts for years of per­ceived in­jus­tices in­clud­ing the O’Driscoll in­ci­dent, then it didn’t nec­es­sar­ily ap­pease for long.

This may seem to be in the realm of para­noia, but there have been so many un­ex­plained and ran­dom de­ci­sions in the last decade that the no­tion there could be a World Rugby con­spir­acy to end or limit the All Blacks’ dom­i­nance can’t nec­es­sar­ily be bat­ted away as it should.

It sounds pre­pos­ter­ous, the stuff of mad­cap scep­ti­cism but when the ev­i­dence is pre­sented, it ac­tu­ally makes a strangely com­pelling case.

The All Blacks have dom­i­nated World Rugby since the end of 2009 and, fun­nily enough, it was from about that time strange things be­gan to hap­pen.

Could it be that the All Blacks have com­mit­ted the car­di­nal sin of be­ing per­ceived as too good? World Rugby is try­ing to push the sport into new places and win new fol­low­ers and could it be that all this win­ning by the All Blacks isn’t deemed to be help­ing the cause?

Is there a gen­uine fear that spon­sors and broad­cast­ers will tire of in­vest­ing in rugby should the All Blacks con­tinue to win as of­ten as they have?

There have been a num­ber of ir­reg­u­lar and un­ex­plained de­ci­sions in the last decade that even those with the staunch­est con­vic­tion that a fair play ethos per­vades the halls of rugby power, must pri­vately have their con­cerns that the ru­n­away suc­cess of the All Blacks is not uni­ver­sally con­sid­ered to be good for the game.

The gov­ern­ing body is never go­ing to get ev­ery­thing right. Not ev­ery­one is go­ing to agree with the way they han­dle things and the de­ci­sions they make.

But in spe­cific re­gard to the All Blacks, there does ap­pear to be a slightly wor­ry­ing trend of bizarre and un­prece­dented in­stances of World Rugby in­ter­ven­ing.

Para­dox­i­cally, the one time New Zealand would have been quite happy for World Rugby to in­ter­vene, or at least ac­knowl­edge a gi­ant er­ror had been made, was af­ter the third test last year against the Bri­tish & Ir­ish Lions.


The All Blacks were wrongly de­nied the chance to kick a penalty to win the se­ries in the last minute, and ev­ery­one knew that ref­eree Ro­main Poite had sim­ply lost the plot and had a ma­jor melt­down.

It was en­tirely wrong but World Rugby chose to say noth­ing about Poite’s hor­ror mo­ment where he ini­tially awarded the All Blacks a penalty when Lions hooker Ken Owens got him­self in a mud­dle and caught the ball in an off­side po­si­tion.

The All Blacks had al­ready chucked the ball to Beau­den Bar­rett to get ready to knock it over when Lions cap­tain Sam War­bur­ton asked Poite if he could check with the other of­fi­cials.

Poite shouldn’t have as the in­ci­dent was nei­ther re­lated to foul play nor to de­ter­mine whether a try had been scored, but nev­er­the­less, he did, and TMO Ge­orge Ay­oub con­firmed it should be a penalty to the All Blacks.

But as we all know, Poite was ran­domly talked out of his ini­tial de­ci­sion by as­sis­tant ref­eree Jérôme Gar­cès and the All Blacks were given a scrum in­stead of a kick­able penalty.

That fail­ure by Poite to ap­ply the law re­mains one of the great scan­dals of re­cent times.

A mag­nif­i­cent se­ries came down to the last play and, while it would have been the cru­ellest luck on Owens and a Lions squad that had played their hearts out and de­fied all ex­pec­ta­tions, the All Blacks should have been given the op­por­tu­nity to kick for goal and take the glory.

Once the fi­nal whis­tle blew, there was noth­ing they could do to change the out­come, but they would have at least liked a public ac­knowl­edge­ment from World Rugby that Poite had stuffed up.

And why not? Af­ter all World Rugby had pro­vided South Africa with that re­as­sur­ance in 2013 when, on the same Eden Park ground, Poite had wrongly yel­low carded Bis­marck du Plessis in the first half, which be­came a real prob­lem in the sec­ond when he had to yel­low card the Boks hooker again.

A state­ment came out hours af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle that Poite was wrong and that Du Plessis would not be fac­ing any ju­di­cial hear­ing as his first yel­low was be­ing wiped from history.

It didn’t change the fact South Africa lost but they did leave New Zealand feel­ing that a ma­jor fac­tor in that had been to­tally out­side of their con­trol.

Scot­land were given the same hol­low sat­is­fac­tion two years later when South African ref­eree Craig Jou­bert made a sim­i­lar mis­take to Poite [2017] in the last minute of the World Cup quar­ter-fi­nal be­tween Scot­land and Aus­tralia.

He wrongly awarded Aus­tralia a penalty in­stead of the scrum, al­low­ing the Wal­la­bies to win at the death and break Scot­tish hearts. The up­roar was fe­ro­cious, which led to World Rugby clar­i­fy­ing that Jou­bert had been wrong.

Jou­bert’s head was put on a stick to give the Scots some kind of clo­sure – a to­ken to which they could claim a Pyrrhic vic­tory of sorts.

De­spite the prece­dent, the All Blacks have still heard noth­ing and what has made that yet more cu­ri­ous is that in early Fe­bru­ary, World Rugby de­cided to con­demn the TMO in the Six Na­tions match be­tween Wales and Eng­land.

New Zealan­der Glen New­man should have awarded Wales full­back Gareth An­scombe a try af­ter 23 min­utes, but didn’t – a point that Welsh coach War­ren Gat­land laboured af­ter the game – and one with which World Rugby agreed as they re­leased a state­ment to say so.

What this did was in­crease the gov­ern­ing body’s si­lence about the fi­nal min­utes of the third test last year be­tween the All Blacks and the Lions to deaf­en­ing levels.

If Poite had awarded the penalty, most likely Bar­rett would have nailed it and the All Blacks would have won the test and se­ries.

There would have been no time left for the Lions to strike back so the mag­ni­tude of the mis­take and in­jus­tice was enor­mous.

In­stead the Lions could make history of sorts by go­ing home with the se­ries shared: they had de­liv­ered be­yond ex­pec­ta­tion at a time when they re­ally needed to for their own sur­vival.

Through­out the tour, a hos­tile lobby of club own­ers in the UK were try­ing to squeeze the Lions out of the cal­en­dar and the com­pos­ite side needed re­sults to jus­tify its ex­is­tence.

A draw was a good re­sult in the big­ger war to save the Lions and it helped no end to dis­pel the sense of in­vin­ci­bil­ity that was brew­ing around the All Blacks.

They had won back-to-back World Cups and 90 per cent of their games since 2012. If they had added a Lions se­ries to their col­lec­tion... it would have in­creased the vol­ume on the neg­a­tive com­men­taries that emerged in 2016 sug­gest­ing test foot­ball had be­come dull be­cause no one was good enough to reg­u­larly com­pete with the All Blacks.

As for­mer All Blacks coach Graham Henry had said: “There’s no point hav­ing one team much bet­ter than every­body else be­cause that doesn’t cre­ate in­ter­est. When you’re not coach­ing you want a com­pe­ti­tion and when you’re coach­ing, you don’t.”

If the ex­tent of the ir­reg­u­lar­ity en­coun­tered by the All Blacks was con­fined to one in­ci­dent then it would be eas­ier to dis­miss. But it hasn’t been a one-off. Af­ter the sec­ond test against the Lions there were more cu­ri­ous de­ci­sions.

Sonny Bill, who had been rightly sent off in the sec­ond test for mak­ing con­tact with An­thony Wat­son’s head, was given a four-week sus­pen­sion at his ju­di­cial hear­ing. That seemed a fair pun­ish­ment.

Lions flanker Sean O’Brien, how­ever, was cited for swing­ing his arm into the head of Waisake Na­holo in the same game.

It was missed on the night, de­spite Na­holo be­ing knocked out and forced off with con­cus­sion and then, strangely, the ju­di­cial hear­ing was can­celled with no ex­pla­na­tion and O’Brien, one of the stars of the se­ries, was free to play in the third test.

That seemed odd, yet odder still was that a few weeks later, World Rugby chal­lenged its own sup­pos­edly in­de­pen­dent ju­di­cial panel to re­view the de­ci­sion to con­sider the All Blacks’ ‘game of three halves’ fix­ture as a bona fide game.

The panel deemed that the fix­ture met the cri­te­ria of a ‘proper game’ and there­fore could be counted in Wil­liams’ sus­pen­sion pe­riod and he would be avail­able to play against the Wal­la­bies in the first Bledis­loe Cup clash of the year.

“While World Rugby re­spects the de­ci­sion of the in­de­pen­dent ap­peal com­mit­tee to up­hold the ap­peal by New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Wil­liams against the matches that counted to­wards his four-week sus­pen­sion, it is sur­prised by the com­mit­tee’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the def­i­ni­tion of ‘match’ [which is de­fined in reg­u­la­tion 1 as ‘a game in which two teams com­pete against each other’],” the gov­ern­ing body said in a state­ment.

World Rugby choos­ing to in­ter­vene in an in­de­pen­dent process was rare, but not un­prece­dented – but the only two other known oc­ca­sions it has hap­pened were also re­lated to the All Blacks.

In 2012 chief ex­ec­u­tive Brett Gosper tweeted he was con­cerned the ju­di­cial panel had been un­duly le­nient in pu­n­ish­ing All Blacks loose for­ward Adam Thom­son who had stamped on the head of a Scot­tish player.

A state­ment fol­lowed which read: “Af­ter care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion and hav­ing re­viewed the full writ­ten de­ci­sion in the Thom­son case well within the per­mit­ted 72 hours of re­ceipt, the IRB [now World Rugby] strongly be­lieves that the sanc­tion of one week is un­duly le­nient for this par­tic­u­lar act of foul play and not aligned with the sanc­tions handed down in sim­i­lar cases.

“The IRB firmly be­lieves it is in the best in­ter­ests of the game and its in­tegrity to ex­er­cise its abil­ity to ap­peal the Thom­son de­ci­sion.”

Thom­son’s ban was dou­bled in the sec­ond re­view and while the out­come was no doubt a bet­ter re­flec­tion of the sever­ity of his crime, it was the fact World Rugby had in­ter­vened in the process that had trou­bled the All Blacks.

Just two months ear­lier they had seen cap­tain Richie McCaw al­most have his jaw bro­ken by a wild and reck­less cleanout by Dean Greyling. The Spring­boks prop had flown into a ruck with his fore­arm high to smash it into McCaw’s face and then fol­low through with his head.

Greyling was yel­low carded and the fact Spring­bok coach Heyneke Meyer apol­o­gised pub­licly af­ter the game and con­demned his player in the strong­est terms, was an in­di­ca­tion that ev­ery­one could see it was an act of ex­treme foul play that de­served the tough­est penal­ties and was one that should have been shown a red card at the time.

Yet Greyling was sus­pended for just one week and World Rugby said noth­ing. The de­ci­sion by Gosper to say some­thing about Thom­son yet not Greyling or any other player for that mat­ter was jar­ring.

Could it be that ev­ery­one was get­ting anx­ious that the All Blacks had not lost a game since the 2011 World Cup? Af­ter be­ing crowned cham­pi­ons they went up an­other level in 2012.

The All Blacks were get­ting stronger at a time when Eng­land were try­ing to re­build af­ter a hor­ror World Cup that led to a ma­jor cleanout of per­son­nel; Wales were still so-so, France a bit of a sham­bles and Aus­tralia were strug­gling.

It was ob­vi­ous at the time Gosper in­ter­vened that the All Blacks were set for a long pe­riod of suc­cess – that their se­nior core was re­ju­ve­nated and ready to ful­fil their stated goal of try­ing to be­come the most

dom­i­nant team in history.

The third World Rugby in­ter­ven­tion was in 2009, when Wales coach Gat­land said, af­ter see­ing his side lose 19-12, that ref­er­ees were afraid of be­ing in­volved in an up­set.

He then claimed Daniel Carter should have been yel­low carded in the 70th minute for a high tackle on the es­cap­ing half­back Martin Roberts. “It was a head-high tackle, wasn’t it,” said Gat­land. “A guy makes a break in­side the 22 and you feel like if that was at the other end it’s three points and a yel­low card.”

That night af­ter the test, the All Blacks learned that a World Rugby of­fi­cial had in­sisted upon Carter be­ing cited and what fol­lowed was a pan­tomime set up where he was sus­pended for one week – miss­ing the next test against Italy which he was never go­ing to play any­way.

The All Blacks didn’t par­tic­u­larly mind the out­come, but again the process felt wrong and ma­nip­u­lated. And it also felt like Gat­land had goaded World Rugby into prov­ing they had the courage to stand up to the All Blacks.

As a piece of psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare, this was a spec­tac­u­lar strike as it cre­ated the im­pres­sion in public minds that the All Blacks were sub­ject to dif­fer­ent rules to ev­ery­one else and that there was a need for World Rugby to re­dress the bal­ance.

Per­haps, though, the most telling ac­tiv­ity in the last decade was World Rugby’s con­tin­ued non­ac­tiv­ity when it came to All Blacks cap­tain Richie McCaw.

Recog­nised as the most in­flu­en­tial player in the world, McCaw was con­stantly be­ing tar­geted by op­po­nents who wanted to negate his im­pact.

He rarely, if ever, re­ceived much in the way of pro­tec­tion from ref­er­ees and the few per­pe­tra­tors of ex­treme vi­o­lence against him who did face jus­tice were treated ex­traor­di­nar­ily le­niently.

There was never any in­ter­ven­tion from World Rugby to make a point to var­i­ous in­de­pen­dent pan­els that they needed to re­con­sider hand­ing down harsher pun­ish­ments.

The All Blacks felt that World Rugby didn’t mind let­ting op­po­nents know that McCaw was fair game – that he could be tar­geted with im­punity. It hap­pened so many times, they could hardly think any dif­fer­ently.

In 2008 McCaw was smashed in a ridicu­lous head-high tackle by Andy Pow­ell in Cardiff. It was an ob­vi­ous red card – yet noth­ing hap­pened. In 2010 McCaw was smashed in the face by Eng­land hooker Dy­lan Hart­ley. Again, it hap­pened in full view and it was clearly an act of bel­liger­ence borne by frus­tra­tion. A red card should have been shown, but in­stead the out­come was, in­cred­i­bly, penalty to Eng­land.

In 2011 Quade Cooper kneed McCaw in the face and...noth­ing. And worst of all, French back Aurélien Rougerie was not cited af­ter the 2011 World Cup fi­nal for eye-goug­ing Richie McCaw.

World Rugby said the footage of the in­ci­dent emerged too late to be con­sid­ered. They man­aged to re­spond to the Thom­son in­ci­dent within 48 hours but they couldn’t see images from their own World Cup fi­nal un­til four days af­ter the game?

The list of un­pun­ished or hardly pun­ished crimes against McCaw was end­less, but of course what could they say pub­licly with­out fac­ing ridicule?

The All Blacks have, in their past, ben­e­fited from poor ref­er­ee­ing calls and in­con­sis­tent ju­di­cial out­comes.

Iso­late the last decade, though – a pe­riod in which the All Blacks have dom­i­nated rugby in un­prece­dented fash­ion – and re­gard­less of al­le­giance, the pic­ture looks skewed.

Out­comes, in­ter­ven­tions and in­con­sis­tent de­ci­sions are mak­ing it look like the ma­chin­ery of the in­sti­tu­tion is work­ing against the All Blacks.


[ABOVE LEFT] RE­SENT­MENT The con­tin­ued suc­cess of the All Blacks has not been uni­ver­sally wel­comed.

[BE­LOW LEFT] FARCE OF NA­TURE It was deemed ridicu­lous that Daniel Carter was cited for this tackle in 2009. [BE­LOW RIGHT] IN­TER­VEN­TION World Rugby felt the need to in­ter­vene in the ju­di­cial process fol­low­ing this match be­tween the All Blacks and...

LOST LOVE The All Blacks weren’t hugely pop­u­lar in the UK dur­ing the 1980s and 1990s.

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