Discipline vital for ABs with Garces on the whistle
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.
France’s Jerome Garces is a familiar figure as a referee for the All Blacks.