Here's my take on the All Blacks v "Farce" rugby test match at Eden Park, Auckland, last Saturday night.

Let me start by saluting New Zealand coach Steve Hansen for fielding a team who gave the country warm fuzzies at the height of a cold snap with two sets of brothers. It was a long time in the making and a timely red herring deflecting attention from a French side lacking marquee players.

If anything, that gave the tourists a chance to stay in touch ... until the 51st minute when the referee, Luke Pearce of England, sent off French lock Paul Gabrillagues for a dangerous tackle that wasn't on ABs midfielder Ryan Crotty.

In Pearce's defence, he had marched back Aaron Smith for back chat in the 19th minute, when the ABs halfback took exception to a penalty for the official's interpretation of not releasing his counterpart, Morgan Parra, at the base of the scrum.


The Englishman had made it abundantly clear he wasn't going to let anyone push him around the park but did that mindset eventually lead to his downfall?

Things became farcical in the 59th minute when ABs openside flanker Sam Cane, French try-scoring winger Remy Grosso and substitute ABs prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi had a mighty collision.

Cane had smacked the winger on the jaw with his swinging left arm before Tu'ungafasi came in with his right shoulder on the noggin and the ensuing three-way head clash.

It's not surprising that Grosso was taken to hospital where he was diagnosed with two tour-ending facial fractures.

So much for former ABs halfback/captain Justin Marshall's "expert opinion" on TV.

"That head-high tackle is no worse than what we saw from Gabrillagues," he said nonchalantly.

Snapped back commentator Grant Nisbett: "But it is worse. It hit the target."

Marshall proceeded to incorrectly explain that the Gabrillagues tackle had bounced off the ball "and maybe debatably went up" to hit Crotty's neck but TV footage showed there was no contact.


This is the sort of criticism we level at one-eyed Aussie TV commentators in the NRL or A-League but Marshall's assumptions, gob smackingly with all the replay footage at his fingertips, must make the world wonder if Kiwis live in a bubble sometimes.

Someone needs to tell Marshall blind patriotism leads to Trumpism. I'm not an AB but even I can see the stark differences.

It does raise the question of what Pearce was thinking. He was aware Grosso copped one in the neck and chin but didn't reach for his yellow card as he had done with Gabrillagues.

Referee Luke Pearce yellow cards Paul Gabrillagues for a head-high on Ryan Crotty. Photo / Photosport
Referee Luke Pearce yellow cards Paul Gabrillagues for a head-high on Ryan Crotty. Photo / Photosport

Cane was guilty and should have been ordered off the field with Tu'ungafasi — game on.

Hansen's assertion that things happen due to "fluidity" in the game is perplexing.

"Our game is really fluid, there's movement in it, and when you get two guys coming in to make a tackle on one, things can change late. That's what happened," he explained.

Sideline commentator Ian Smith rightly pointed out Cane and Tu'ungafasi should have been subjected to protocol and followed Grosso down the tunnel for a head assessment.

Four minutes later, after a flurry of replacements on both sides and a try, Pearce instructed Cane to go for a test. Tu'unagfasi never did.

Did the ref receive a reminder on his ear piece from the TMO George Ayoub?

If so why didn't Ayoub do the same with the Gabrillagues, Cane and Tu'ungafasi's tackles?

Nine minutes later, Cane was back on the sideline talking to ABs manager Darren Shand and eventually sent Ardie Savea back to the bench.

Either the concussion protocol is a PR exercise or Cane is a damn good actor who adroitly deflected attention from his swinging-arm tackle to public sympathy for a head case dating back to 2015.

From where I was sitting, anything the ABs achieved after the 51st minute fell in the ambit of a grossly false economy. That, of course, is not to say the French would have won.

Are the All Blacks cheats?

Goodness, no. They just simply get away with it more often than any other team in the world.

I rest my case in alluding to French flanker Bernard Le Roux's belief that his compatriots need the "bounce of the ball" to beat the ABs.

"I don't think you ever win [sic] the All Blacks because you're better than them, I think you win them because you've got a bit of luck in your side," Le Roux said.

Well, excuse my French, but that smacks of reports from July last year on Sonny Bill Williams becoming the first AB to be sent off, against the British and Irish Lions, in 50 years.

The tourists seem to be tripping over each other to prove it's has got more to do with their lack of competency and drive than anything else.

Any suggestions that ABs aren't accountable for others' oversights is convenient at best.

Who are the citing commissioners and why has it taken them so long to slap a wet bus ticket on Tu'ungafasi as an "almost red"? What about Cane?

France's Paul Gabrillagues tackles a howling All Blacks midfielder, Ryan Crotty, for a yellow-card offence that wasn't one. Photo / Photosport
France's Paul Gabrillagues tackles a howling All Blacks midfielder, Ryan Crotty, for a yellow-card offence that wasn't one. Photo / Photosport

Transparency and credibility in the game will surface when officials don't feel intimidated taking the field worrying about bad calls that may rob them of centre stage.

It's when Hansen can admit that accident or not, a shot to the noggin is a sending off — no ifs and buts.

It's when French captain Mathieu Bastreaud can answer post-match questions without feeling as if he has been muzzled or commentators can ask ABs counterpart Sam Whitelock straightforward questions on turning points in the game rather than warm fuzzies.

It's when ABs (two-week bans) are meted sensible sentencing compared with an Aussie (five) or Fijian (six) in Super Rugby for offences of a similar magnitude.

The code will prosper only when teams stop feeling like motorists who should take tickets on the chin from traffic officers, regardless of whether the law has been interpreted correctly, or succumb to a punitive public who feel you should pay the fine because they had to.