First, the good news: A World Rugby-appointed judicial committee has cancelled the red card sanction handed to France fullback Benjamin Fall for his mid-air collision due to the various mitigating circumstances which finished with Beauden Barrett suffering from concussion.

Now, for the bad. Referee Angus Gardner was wrong to issue it. His two match officials on the sidelines were wrong to endorse it. And television match official George Ayoub was wrong for his failure to tell Gardner to wait before reaching for his red card, to look instead at the bigger picture which clearly showed Fall's loss of balance caused by Anton Lienert-Brown's interference and the fact that Fall had eyes only for the ball.

More bad: Fall, as many observers felt at the time, was terribly hard done by. He might have received an apology on behalf of World Rugby's representatives at New Zealand Rugby's Wellington headquarters after the hearing on Sunday night but what cold comfort after playing only 12 mintues of the game following his arrival during the week from Montpellier and the fact the test and series was effectively over once he left.

He'll be free to play in Dunedin on Saturday, but, again, it's too little, too late. The damage has been done.

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Where does this leave us? Even more confused. The expedient result for World Rugby and Gardner would have been a guilty finding, and a two-week-or-so ban for Fall.

Common sense has been applied, clearly, but the law is also clear and Gardner ruled it to the letter because of the way Barrett landed – on his head and neck area. It was a horrible incident, but again, watching it live it was hard not to feel that Fall was very hard done by.

As the referee, Gardner is the sole arbiter of the laws. A week earlier, Luke Pearce gave France lock Paul Gabrillagues a yellow card for a high tackle on Ryan Crotty which probably didn't even warrant a penalty. Unfortunately, replays showed as much but the TMO, who wasn't consulted, didn't have the right to call Pearce on it.

The grey areas are such that referees need access to a metaphorical enigma machine to crack the code every time they run on to the pitch and probably the only quick fix is that they require better and more timely advice from their assistants.

"The player, at all times, had his eyes on the ball whilst it was in the air, which showed, in our opinion, a clear intention, on the part of the player, that he intended to contest it," the judicial body's statement said. "From the moment the ball leaves France #10's boot the player is observed running a line at pace to a position which he believes will put him in the best possible position to catch it. The line that the player is running is then altered by his collision with NZ #13. This collision then causes the player to lose his balance, stumble and be propelled or pushed towards the path of NZ #10. By reason of those matters the player's attempt to contest the ball was compromised."

The panel, including former Australia players David Croft and John Langford found Fall wasn't careless or reckless, but was compromised himself by Lienert-Brown.

ROTORUA DAILY POST
19 Jun, 2018 12:55pm
3 minutes to read

"It is important to record, that no criticism is made of the referee nor, in our opinion, would any be warranted," the panel added.

"Unlike the referee we had the benefit of all the video footage, which showed various angles of the incident. Unlike the referee we had the luxury of time to deliberate and consider, in private, the incident. In contrast, the referee was required to make his decision in a matter of minutes in the full gaze of the public and without the benefit of all the relevant material."

Gardner needed more help in Wellington - what chance more drama in Dunedin on Saturday?

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