All Blacks Ben Smith and Jordie Barrett, two of the best exponents in the game under the high ball, have revealed their sympathy for French fullback Benjamin Fall following last night's red card controversy but also for referee Angus Gardner.
Despite having his eyes on the ball, Fall was sent from the Westpac Stadium pitch after 12 minutes for his mid-air collision with All Blacks No10 Beauden Barrett.
Gardner ruled to the letter of the law, but didn't take into account interference from All Blacks centre Anton Lienert-Brown on Fall which put him off balance, and while the French rallied superbly, the test and series was effectively over as a result of their numerical disadvantage.
The deciding factor for Gardner was the fact Beauden Barrett landed on his head – he later didn't return from a head injury assessment – but disgruntled France supporters will point to the fact that Ofa Tuungafasi made accidental contact with the head of Remy Grosso last week, which caused a double skull fracture, and wasn't sanctioned at all.
It is the inconsistency which infuriates rugby supporters around the world and there is little hope for a resolution in the near future. Neither is a solution likely to limit the collisions between players contesting high kicks – a contentious and dangerous area of the game as we saw last night.
"It was a pretty scary fall," Jordie Barrett said after his team's disappointing performance in the 26-13 victory. "It is not ideal when you see guys go up to contest the ball and fall awkwardly. It was a hard watch.
"As 15s, wingers and 10s, you know you are in a vulnerable position when you contest for the ball. At times you do fall awkwardly and as we saw his one [Beauden's] was worse than other ones."
Smith, another fullback who was playing again on the right wing last night, knows all about the importance of ensuring the welfare of players. He suffered several concussions for the Highlanders last year and fell awkwardly while taking a high kick in the first test against the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park, but said he felt for Australian official Gardner.
"Yeah I got a pretty good look at it. It is a tough one isn't it. The ref is just refereeing to the law. I feel sorry for him [Fall] but he [ref] is just going off the rules and what he has seen. I think it is a really tough one because you still want that contest but it is getting very hard to rule on.
"It happens pretty quickly. The thing is losing your feet is the tough thing. It is hard because the guys go up and you lose your feet but that is the way it is and it is part of the game. If you get into that situation then there is the risk that you may spend time in the bin – either yellow or red card."
It was put to Smith by the Herald before the first test against France, won 52-11 by the All Blacks, that allowing players to jump for high kicks could be in danger of being ruled out.
"There still needs to be a contest - that's part of the game," Smith told the Herald. "If you take away the contest ... you can't have that because that whole part of the game will be taken away. I can't really see that happening.
"Consistency [of ruling] is probably the main thing. It's a tough one because when you go up for a high ball, you just have to make sure you're protecting yourself. I suppose sometimes ... it can look bad. It's a matter of making sure the tackler is being careful of the guy in the air. Both players have to be careful."
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