All Blacks can no longer afford to stay quiet about poor refereeing

The All Blacks are looking for redemption tonight at Eden Park and so too is referee Romain Poite.

Just as the All Blacks need to be significantly better than they were last week and indeed the last time they played at Eden Park, so too does Poite. The 38-year-old Frenchman was cast into the international wilderness following his shocker in Auckland last year when he wrongly sent off Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis.

It's been a long week to wait for the All Blacks as they have treated last week's draw like a loss, the players and coach are determined to retain the Bledisloe cup with a much improved performance.

A fairly memorable game of football was brewing that night until Poite ignored the advice of his assistants, refused to fully utilise the scope of the television match official's jurisdiction and reached for his yellow card after du Plessis clobbered Daniel Carter in a near-perfect tackle.

When du Plessis was later adjudged to have hit Liam Messam in the throat with an elbow, Poite had to show red and the game was ruined. The IRB issued an apology - but too late: it didn't help South Africa or carry any true sense of justice.


Poite wasn't seen again until the Six Nations this year and understandably there is considerable anxiety within the All Blacks as to what level of competence they will encounter from the officials tonight.

Poor refereeing has become the issue on which the All Blacks can no longer stay quiet. Unbeaten in 18 tests and having lost only one of their last 35, they can hardly be accused of using poor refereeing as an excuse.

Their concerns about referees are on two distinct fronts. The first is the potential impact on the popularity of the global game. While the test in Sydney provided ample drama, there was virtually no spectacle.

Much of that was due to the inaccuracy of the All Blacks, but plenty had to do with a bad performance by referee Jaco Peyper.

The All Blacks had encountered Peyper in five previous tests - had won the lot - and rated him as solid, fair and consistent. He has admitted to making a significant number of mistakes in Australia and that may have plenty to do with him receiving mixed messages from his various pay masters. Peyper is answerable to his referee boss in South Africa, Andre Watson; Sanzar's Lyndon Bray and the IRB's Joel Jutge.

"I understand how the game played out the way it did," says All Black coach Steve Hansen of last week's 12-all draw. "We played poorly and made a lot of mistakes so you can't build momentum when you are making mistakes. The other reason ... it wasn't a great performance by the ref and again you can't build momentum if he's taking it away from you.

"Where do you want me to start [as to what Peyper got wrong]? The free-kicks he felt were wrong. He's not sure why he called pre-engage [in two scrums]. The yellow card was wrong ... the first one [to Wyatt Crockett]. The ball was out. There were quite a few things we had a chat about and I respect the man for his honesty and he's no different to the players and sometimes you have a bad day.

"He just had a bad day at the office. He's put his hand up but I have to emphasise it wasn't just his problem - we had a hell of a bad day ourselves."

The second concern held by the All Blacks is that they are encountering referees with pre-determined ideas about how New Zealand play. They are especially concerned that their work at scrum and breakdown is under unnecessary scrutiny - and that captain Richie McCaw is being specifically targeted.

Craig Joubert, who refereed the Super Rugby final, is understood to have made contact with McCaw to personally apologise for the 79th minute decision to award the Waratahs a penalty. Joubert wrongly said McCaw had entered a ruck from the side.

McCaw was penalised three times in Sydney and again Peyper is believed to have later apologised for at least two of the infringements.

Collectively, the All Blacks are being hammered on the discipline front. They conceded 17 penalties on the opening weekend of Rugby Championship; Argentina 13, South Africa and Australia 10 each.

The All Blacks have also picked up nine yellow cards in their last 12 tests. But again, they have had confirmation from the referees in question that almost half were wrongly awarded.

The objective tonight will be to minimise the impact of the referee by playing considerably better than in Sydney and also at Eden Park in June.

The All Blacks, according to Hansen, failed to put any structure into the game and let themselves down with horrible skill execution and bad decision-making.

"If we play well enough we get to control the game and if we control the game then we give ourselves a chance of winning it. We can't control what they [referees] do - you just want them to be consistent.

"The expectation you have with the referee, whoever he is, is that he is not [Poite] going to come in with any preconceived ideas ... So I am assuming he's not going to come in with any preconceived ideas because the last time he reffed Australia they were poor in the scrum. He'll come in, look at the pictures and take them for what they are. If he does that it will be great."