Gardner got it right, it’s Law makers in a muddle
Having been sent off in the second Test against New Zealand, at the subsequent disciplinary hearing Benjamin Fall’s red card was rescinded, and the decision was bizarre in the light of the way the game has been refereed in recent months.
Watching the game through eyes that are accustomed to the Premiership, I was in no doubt that it was going to be a red card. Although Fall had his eyes on the ball, once it became apparent he wasn’t going to be in a position to properly contest it, he had the famous ‘duty of care’ towards Beauden Barrett, and should have either pulled out, or made an effort to help Barrett land safely. Instead, the All Black 10 landed on his neck and it looked nasty.
However, in a ruling that was just plain weird, the panel decided that everything had in fact been hunky-dorey, something that was confirmed – well, sort of – by World Rugby. The rationale for the decision was that Fall had been obstructed by Anton Lienert-Brown and this had forced him to change his running line. That may have been the case, but even if the obstruction was deliberate, and therefore a penalty offence, surely Fall was still required to look out for Barrett’s wellbeing?
If we’re now saying that an extraneous event, such as an accidental or deliberate obstruction, is a defence for a man being taken out in the air, then I’m baffled. We’ll all be watching once the new Premiership season starts, to see whether there’s a change of attitude from English refs – I suspect there won’t be, and that this was just another bizarre disciplinary decision taken in the land of the long white cloud.
Just as worrying is that France have lost a Test series under the most unsatisfactory of circumstances. To remind you, in the first Test they had a player yellow-carded who did nothing wrong, while the All Blacks should have had at least one yellow and one red card. It’s amazing how the Laws and decisions tend to be implemented differently whenever the All Blacks are involved.
The glorious uncertainty of sport means that we can’t say the French were robbed, but they were never given a fair crack of the whip. The way things are going we might as well stop having competitive matches, and simply stage exhibition games! In sport the result is what matters, and we’re getting some unsatisfactory ones.
World Rugby’s conduct over the past few days has been disappointing to say the least. The decision to rescind the red card was baffling, and the treatment of referee Angus Gardner was disgraceful. While saying that no blame should be attached to him, they publicly said that he got it wrong. That’s utter nonsense: under the protocols that existed at the time, he got it absolutely right, and this is just another example of World Rugby’s Teflon shoulders – whenever anything goes wrong, they’re like TS Eliot’s Macavity, ‘not there’.
Later in the week, they were forced to release a clarification which said that the protocol we’ve all got used to, and which Gardner properly applied still stands, but on the basis of the Fall decision, that’s presumably unless Jupiter is in conjunction with Mars, or there are some other mitigating circumstances.
The plain fact is that we had a protocol which was widely accepted, bar by a few dinosaurs who persisted in telling us that game had gone soft, but that has been undermined by the decision of the World Rugby-appointed disciplinary panel.
Whenever an organisation are forced to issue a clarification it’s because they messed it up in the first instance, and it’s becoming harder and harder to have confidence that World Rugby is up to the job.
How about this for a solution: redefine World Rugby’s role as purely development, specifically growing the game in emerging markets, and establish a new professional organisation that looks after the Laws and the way the elite game is managed.
Looking at the current World Rugby organisation, the perfect candidate to head up such a body would be Agustin Pichot, who increasingly seems to be the voice of reason among World Rugby’s army of ‘blazers’ and apparatchiks.
Hung out to dry: Referee Angus Gardner