When the All Blacks head north, the yellow cards come out

By Gregor Paul in Paris

It's a strange old business that the All Blacks can play 10 tests in the Southern Hemisphere without a peep in regard to their conduct and three games in the North and they are effectively branded thugs.

The All Blacks, whatever is said, implied or alluded to in the next few weeks, are not a dirty rugby team - in the Southern Hemisphere. There is no statistical or other empirical support to say otherwise.

They picked up two yellow cards in the Rugby Championship - one less than Australia and one more than South Africa. Neither of those cards were for foul play and in six brutal games in that tournament, the only controversy, and it never really came to much, was the suggestion Owen Franks had eye gouged in the second Wallabies test. The incident wasn't even cited.

By way of comparison Scotland picked up four yellow cards in this year's Six Nations, England three, Ireland, France and Italy one and Wales didn't have any.

In a like for like comparison across the two hemisphere's major tournaments - the All Blacks don't stand out as a red flag team in respect to their conduct.

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But the picture has been different in November. In their three tests in the Northern Hemisphere, they have picked up three yellow cards - two for high tackles and one for charging through from an offside position. Wales have been shown two yellow cards and a handful of nations have picked up one.

It's nothing new for the All Blacks. They come North and the penalty counts go against them. They come North and incidents that perhaps wouldn't cause much kefuffle in the South, have everyone in Europe raging.

The question is whether this picture is build on perception or reality. Clearly, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen thinks it is the latter. The way the All Blacks are portrayed and treated in the North is a perennial sore point for him.

Protective of his players at the best of times, he can be overtly prickly and bullish when he's in this part of the world.

History tells him that much of what is thrown at the All Blacks is pre-meditated - that plenty of Northern rugby followers have a firm view about how New Zealand play and what they are all about.

That was clearly how he felt when he was being interviewed by Irish TV after the 21-9 victory in Dublin. The initial questions about the All Blacks' discipline were legitimate. The yellow cards had put the All Blacks under pressure and neither could be defended.

He obviously felt he had given a valid answer - he was straight down the barrel about the cards...deserved but had the referee been consistent in penalising both sides for the same offences?

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On the tackles that weren't carded, he felt the issue was more about the speed and intensity of the game - the inevitable consequence of two teams going hard and humans reacting as they could.

And maybe just as legitimately he felt, because the questions kept coming, that he was in the midst of a witch hunt. He was the ogre in charge of the team of ogres and had to confess all.

But as much as there is some sense of conspiracy, so too do the All Blacks have to accept that in this part of the world, they have to be more careful than they have been.

They have to be wary that World Rugby is determined to stop players from hitting around the chest. They have to be extra wary in this part of the world. Anything that looks high will have the crowd wailing and referees panicking.

The All Blacks are not a dirty team, but they are going to have to work hard to prove that in Paris.

- NZ Herald

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