Rugby: Should we be worried about the All Blacks' discipline?

By Campbell Burnes

The All Blacks' discipline, or lack of it, is starting to become a major issue and it will need to be sorted out before Wayne Barnes takes the whistle for the test in Paris next weekend.

All Blacks' fans need no reminding of the controversial history of Barnes-officiated All Blacks v France tests, but the team itself needs to cut down on the penalties and yellow cards conceded or they may again be reliant on a titanic defensive effort as they showed against Ireland in Dublin.

The All Blacks have often prided themselves on their discipline - indeed, Richie McCaw copped just three yellow cards in 148 tests, a startlingly low number for a man pushing the envelope at the breakdown - but they are slipping up, as it were, on this northern tour.

They have conceded three yellows in their two northern tests against Ireland. In Chicago, prop Joe Moody, whose general discipline is not as good as it should be in both the scrums and collisions - was carded for a tip tackle on Robbie Henshaw which might even have warranted a red.

It was, unfortunately, indicative of the All Blacks' display, as they brought the wrong attitude and were on the wrong end of the 12-4 penalty count from French referee Mathieu Raynal. Ireland outplayed them in most areas of that match, putting five tries on them and dominating around 65 minutes of the affair. But those discipline issues were costly.

Discipline was not a factor in the All Blacks' 68-10 shellacking of Italy in Rome under the control of Nigel Owens, not when only one team turned up to play.

In Dublin this morning, South Africa referee Jaco Peyper, one of the best in the world, blew 14 penalties to four against the All Blacks, most for breakdown infringements.

Coach Steve Hansen wondered aloud, though not in so many words, about the consistency of his rulings. Ireland were far from perfect with some of their work, but largely escaped the whistle.

The whistle hurt the All Blacks, but so did two justifiable yellow cards, one against the still off-colour Aaron Smith at the breakdown, while the otherwise excellent Malakai Fekitoa was binned for almost taking Simon Zebo's head off in a covering tackle.

The All Blacks should have few quibbles with that call, but they know that if they continue to play with 14 men on two separate occasions, sooner or later they will pay against a side - read, England - that has more attacking nous than Ireland showed and a surfeit of possession will be converted.

Some pundits have felt the All Blacks should have taken anywhere between one and three more yellow cards for borderline tackles. That is stretching it, given we are not playing tiddlywinks, and Sam Cane was not to blame for any malice in his highish tackle on Henshaw, which forced the Ireland second five to leave the field.

Three cards is the most conceded by any side in the November internationals, so the All Blacks will need to ensure their breakdown work, in particular, not to mention scrum engagements and the height of their tackles, are clean and accurate for their Parisian showdown with Les Bleus and Monsieur Barnes.

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