In the wake of French fullback Benjamin Fall being cleared to play this weekend, World Rugby is going to come under intense pressure to re-write its rules and accept there are grey areas in rugby.

Without making some kind of change to legislate for accidental collisions the game is going to be in trouble and good referees such as Angus Gardner are going to be ever fearful that their reward for applying the letter of the law will be to thrown under the bus by their employer.

That has, to some extent, been Gardner's fate. The Australian essentially did everything right on Saturday night in Wellington.

He reviewed the footage from multiple angles. He sought in-put from his assistants and most importantly from the TMO and then he applied the law as it stood.

Advertisement

But the judicial panel who reviewed Fall's case saw it differently. They determined that the fullback's collision with Barrett didn't merit a red card. They have said, matter of fact, it was the wrong decision.

Match Referee Angus Gardner seen waiting watching the big screen during the International Rugby Union game of the Steinlager Series between All Blacks vs France. Photo / Photosport.co.nz
Match Referee Angus Gardner seen waiting watching the big screen during the International Rugby Union game of the Steinlager Series between All Blacks vs France. Photo / Photosport.co.nz

The statement they released also made a lengthy defence of Gardner. The panel laboured the point that they were not being critical of the referee.

They had hours to review the footage. They had time to hear Fall's defence, to think through all the mitigating circumstances and hence it wouldn't be fair to be critical of Gardner whose timeframe and pressures to make a decision were entirely different.

But the world isn't going to read the statement or care too much about the impassioned reasoning of the panel.

The world will only have ears for the fact that the panel said the red card was the wrong decision and conclude that Gardner stuffed up.

Here's the problem. The way the law is written, Gardner could fairly argue that he applied it.

Instead, he now looks like the man who wrongly killed the test match: the man who shortchanged thousands of paying fans and the man who owes Fall and the whole of France a massive apology.

That's an unfair outcome for him but of more concern is that unless there is a change in the law, Gardner won't be the last referee whose reputation is hammered for all the wrong reasons.

Anton Lienert-Brown of New Zealand is tackled by Gael Fickou of France during the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and France. Photo / Getty Images.
Anton Lienert-Brown of New Zealand is tackled by Gael Fickou of France during the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and France. Photo / Getty Images.

What seems beyond dispute is that there has to be something written into the law book which gives officials the opportunity leeway to deem some collisions and incidents accidental.

And if they are deemed accidental then the process must be different. There has to be room for officials to differentiate between obvious foul play and unavoidable collisions.

The danger is of course that referees could cop out too regularly and deem too many things an accident but that seems a risk worth taking, especially as there is the citing commissioner waiting as the next line of defence.

There is no perfect solution because rugby is an imperfect game, but what's clear is that the current situation is patently not working.