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.
IT SHOULD BE CONSIDERED UTTER NONSENSE THAT THERE ARE INVISIBLE POWERS CONSPIRING AGAINST THE ALL BLACKS. BUT THE EVIDENCE THAT HAS MOUNTED IN THE LAST DECADE IS HARD TO IGNORE.
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
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.’ RICHIE McCAW
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.
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 COMPETITION AND WHEN YOU’RE COACHING YOU DON’T.’ GRAHAM HENRY
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  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.
IT WAS A HEAD-HIGH TACKLE, WASN’T IT. 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.’ WARREN GATLAND
[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.