All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster has countered claims that match officials are soft on his team by saying they were the one of the most heavily punished international sides last year.

The All Blacks received nine cards – a red and eight yellows – in 14 tests in 2017, so while Ofa Tuungafasi and Sam Cane avoided sanctions for the tackle which left Remy Grosso with a fractured skull in the recent test at Eden Park, it is not necessarily the continuation of the trend than some believe it is.

Of those 14 tests, the All Blacks lost two and drew one; the first defeat came against the British & Irish Lions in Wellington after Sonny Bill Williams was red-carded for a high tackle, and the draw was against the Lions in the third test at Eden Park after Jerome Kaino was sinbinned, also for a high tackle.

No All Blacks were carded in the other defeat in the third Bledisloe Cup test against Australia in Brisbane.


The All Blacks also lost two players to the sinbin twice in two tests (Argentina in Buenos Aires and Scotland in Edinburgh) and won them, but being at a numerical disadvantage is clearly not ideal and in the wake of the first test against France won 52-11 by his team, Foster said his side worked tirelessly on getting their tackle heights right.

"You have to ask the referees that but clearly we don't think we get any favours from the referees at all," he said. "They've got a tough job and I don't know a top referee that doesn't go out there just ref it the way he sees it.

"If you look at the penalty counts and yellow cards last year – weren't we one of the top yellow-carded teams last year? I'm not sure how this 'soft on us' comes into fruition."

Foster added: "It's hurt us, yellow cards. We're like other teams, we don't like going down to 14. It's something we work hard to make sure technically we're as sound as possible.

"Our players are like others – sometimes bad technique takes over.

New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen, left, with Ian Foster. Photo / Getty Images.
New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen, left, with Ian Foster. Photo / Getty Images.

"Our expectation is if we go high we're really susceptible to the punishment that everyone else gets. I think we've been pretty open and honest with how we interpreted last week."

For whatever reason, former international referees seem eager to stick the boot into the All Blacks and Rob Debney, writing in The Times, is the latest, saying ref Luke Pearce should have sent off Tuungafasi for his collision with Grosso. In reality, Tuungafasi's accidental hit didn't meet a red card criteria by Pearce or the citing commissioner, and the same goes for Cane.

Foster said he acknowledged referees had difficult jobs in a dynamic and high-impact environment, but added: "They've also got to apply a sense of wisdom to the game … that's what they're paid to do and they largely do a good job of it."

The increase in the offloading abilities by top players meant the tackle height was creeping up, something World Rugby have attempted to correct by trialling "no higher than the nipple line" tackling at the current under-20s World Cup in France.

"I think we all agree it has to come down a bit," Foster said.

The controversy has probably overshadowed how competitive France were in the first half at Eden Park, where they had an 11-8 halftime lead, and the All Blacks are eager to start far better at Westpac Stadium.

"We need to make sure we impose ourselves a little bit earlier in the game," Foster said. "The French defended well for that first 50 minutes and were making it quite tough for us, so there's still plenty for us to nail down.

"If they put the scoreline to one side and just focus on performance I'm assuming that they'll be fairly happy with large parts of that game."

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