Paul Lewis on sport
Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: Whinging not a pretty sight

Official figures show the All Blacks incur 43 penalties a yellow card, more than seven times the figure of the Springboks. Photo / Dean Purcell
Official figures show the All Blacks incur 43 penalties a yellow card, more than seven times the figure of the Springboks. Photo / Dean Purcell

Now I know what Kiwis looked like when we bayed for the blood of referee Wayne Barnes in RWC 2007. It's not pretty.

Yes, folks, the Aussies are still at it - crying like little girls over the terrible, terrible All Blacks and their terrible, terrible ability to exercise mind control over innocent referees. Sniff, suck thumb, pass the dolly.

The latest examples have carried on the Australian attack, allied to the South African attack, joined by the British attack on All Black practices around the breakdown.

Two weeks ago, former Wallaby coach Bob Dwyer suggested the All Blacks were the biggest cheats on Earth and no remedy could be expected while Kiwi Paddy O'Brien was head of the world's refs. It was a conspiracy theory to rival that of the Kennedy assassination.

The latest effort came from Dwyer again and Peter Bills, writing in the New Zealand Herald.

He latched on to Bob's website and quoted "official figures" showing the All Blacks received 43 penalties before they got a yellow card in the Tri Nations matches to date; compared to the Aussies who got only seven penalties before a yellow card arrived and only six for the Boks.

"It's hard to argue with the facts," bellowed Bob - a statement quoted by Bills. Excuse me, what facts? All this means is the All Blacks have fewer yellow cards. We already knew that.

But the way this is presented gives it weight. The implication, when "the facts" are presented with a knowing silence, nod and wink is that it proves refs are in thrall to the All Blacks.

It proves no such thing. There could be any one of a number of reasons for the penalty and yellow card counts - but neither Bills nor Dwyer chose to delve into that.

Dwyer takes advantage of the fact the average punter is confused by rugby's rules, even cleaned up as they are, to set his nationalistic agenda - to get refs to penalise the All Blacks more, to slow them down, to stop them winning. It's a legitimate ploy; but that's all.

As for Bills, where is the questioning; the exhaustive analysis of each game, penalty, yellow card, the nature of the offences and the environment surrounding such decisions?

In fact, if you trawl through the statistics, it appears the All Blacks have had 46 penalties against them, not 43.

At best, this was a lazy piece of journalism - someone said something so, if I quote it, it must be a story. No attempt to sort out right from wrong; accurate or not.

Bills is English; chief rugby correspondent for Independent News & Media worldwide, large shareholders in the Herald and the Herald on Sunday.

He writes for that company's titles in South Africa, Ireland, New Zealand and England.

Bills recently criticised New Zealand's potential for "ripping off" visitors at the Rugby World Cup. It was a subjective analysis that predictably set off we defensive Kiwis.

One example he gave was the high surcharge levied on a rental car driven from Auckland to parts south.

Uh, well, yeah, Pete ... flying into Auckland, driving down south and then leaving the car there is what most visitors to New Zealand do. The rental companies end up with all their cars not in Auckland, but somewhere else. Costs money to get them back.

That's why it is much cheaper to drive south-north here, same as in other countries. Try taking a rental car from Los Angeles to Miami, for example. It's much more expensive than going the other way.

Anyone with travel experience and common sense knows New Zealand is like anywhere else - like LA, New York, London ... unless you do a bit of research, it's easy to get ripped off, particularly in tourist areas (he went to the Viaduct, for Pete's sake ...).

Dwyer also extolled the virtues of the "informative" Green & Gold website. Green and gold are the Australian rugby colours, so it is little wonder his views are shared there; throwing bricks at the All Blacks is encouraged.

I looked at the video blog Dwyer recommended - eight minutes of 'crimes' by the All Blacks, delivered in a monotone by some bloke called 'Scarf' (at least Bills attaches his name to things) who has a great voice for the print industry.

The joke was that, in the coverage of the All Blacks' nefarious practices, the slo-mo video also revealed offences by Boks and Wallabies.

No mention of them. Which completely destroys the objectivity. The refs have to look at both sides. In real time. In the fastest-paced rugby ever seen.

One or two things need to be recognised. Rugby's rules are still over the top. At every breakdown, there are probably three or four players from both sides who could be pinged.

But the policing of the rules has been rejigged so the game is faster and more palatable for spectators. They had to do it because the game was dying; suffocated by its own laws and strict interpretations.

The All Blacks have taken to this faster and better than anyone else.

They are quicker to the breakdowns in support of the ball-carrier; they drive people off the ball faster and better, particularly in defence. Other sides are struggling to match them - committing offences as they try to stem the tide.

That's it. No big conspiracy. Other sides will catch up. Of course they will. But, seeing as all nationalities believe the ref is against them (how's it going, Mr Barnes?), don't listen to me.

Listen instead to Spiro Zavos, the long-time commentator for the Sydney Morning Herald. Born in Wellington, he's been an Aussie for 23 years and has been known to have a pop or two at the All Blacks.

"This idea of a coming inevitable victory [for the Wallabies] is buttressed by an unhelpful obsession by some of our rugby experts with the so-called illegalities in the game of Richie McCaw.

"It was noticeable that the All Blacks and McCaw contested far fewer rucks and mauls than the Wallabies with their hands. More generally, they tried to counter-ruck by driving the Wallabies off the ball. The tactic worked ...".

"The All Blacks right now have better techniques at the ruck and maul than the Wallabies. They also read the referees better ... Jonathan Kaplan, the South African referee at Christchurch, likes a contest at the ruck. He is insistent that once he makes a call such as "Hands off!", the hands must come off. He is also somewhat tolerant of illegal play when it has no effect on the play. This is why, probably, he allowed Wallabies prop Salesi Ma'afu to come into virtually every ruck and maul illegally from the side."

- Herald on Sunday

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