Mystery surrounding rulings at major moments is a weakness of rugby.

Never mind the quality, feel the pulse. It was racing as Ireland got so close to a historic victory over the All Blacks that it can be claimed the better team, the rank underdogs, may have lost on Saturday night.

A cold war turned into a hot one after the disappointing first test cakewalk in Auckland. The standards were as messy as the weather in the second encounter in Christchurch, but who cares when the contest is this close, this intense. Tests like these are magic without the tricks.

Modern rugby lives in academies but is just as much fun when played the old-school way. Get a load of huffing and puffing behemoths going at one another for 80 minutes with a nasty edge to proceedings, and skill sets get put in their place.


A test match that was supposed to be as nailbiting as a North Korean election turned into something more akin to a dodgy Miami recount - the Irish have every right to raise merry hell over the scrum penalty against them when on attack and pushing for victory.

Referees claim to rely on forensics in these cases but a lot of us prefer the circumstantial evidence, that an All Black scrum adrift on one side - where replacements Ben Franks, Ali Williams and Sam Cane were stationed on this occasion - was getting a right going over from the men in green.

Frontrower Cian Healy and his mates were powering ahead, when they ran into a flapping rulebook.

Referee Nigel Owens ruled that Ireland had pulled back on one side, a grossly unfair judgment when placed on the scales of justice rather than under a faulty microscope.

How could Owens be that sure at such an important moment? Any teams under these circumstances have a right to feel robbed.

This is a rugby weakness, the inexactness and mystery surrounding rulings at major moments.

For instance, Jonathan Sexton's failed long-range penalty attempt, which would have brought Ireland a lead in the 72nd minute, was taken well in advance of where Piri Weepu had collected Rob Kearney's up and under just inside the Irish half. An impossible goal attempt became one worth trying.

The rejuvenated green machine did prove one thing - how awful they were in the first test. Why an international side has to sink so low before it can rise to a decent level is the question.

The conditions played a big part - the ones existing in the Irish players' heads, that is. They didn't look up for the Eden Park game.

With a giant upset and the subsequent relief still thick in the air, it was almost forgotten the All Blacks had just won the series. This didn't feel like a triumph, although Steve Hansen has managed to blood four new players and emerge relatively unscathed.

Having written off the Irish before the second test, any inclination to do the same before the final encounter has disappeared. Which performance can we trust - the All Blacks of the first test or the Irish of the second? That is largely what the Hamilton game is all about.

Warriors' season done

The Warriors snatched defeat from the jaws of victory again. The latest loss to the Cronulla Sharks and the recent one to the Wests Tigers have done their season.

They will struggle to make the top eight finals now, and even if they do they will be hard pressed to overcome the disadvantage of being outside the top four.

The new finals system, replacing the controversial McIntyre concept, is designed specifically to give the top four sides an increased chance of making the grand final with the top two teams accorded added home ground opportunities.

Teams five to eight must win three games to make the final. A band of the Warriors' promoted junior players who are so used to crushing opponents in the Toyota Cup is finding out about the resilience of NRL teams the hard way.

The young players like the impressive powerhouse Konrad Hurrell and consummate Ben Henry will be better for the experience in the long run, but these collapses are extremely frustrating to watch.

The long wait for a premiership title goes on, and on, and on.