Hard to know who was more blind – Kiwis' rugby league captain Dallin Watene-Zelezniak after being eye-gouged, the referee and TMO in Owen Farrell's shoulder charge against South Africa or Ian Foster in his defence of Beauden Barrett's goalkicking.

Let's start with Farrell, now known as Venus – short for Venus de Milo (no arms). Referee Angus Gardner and TMO Olly Hodges somehow overlooked the fact Farrell did not use his arms when tackling Andre Esterhuizen at the death. It's an automatic penalty.

Yellow card? Maybe but no big deal if not. Red card? Nah. But it was a penalty.

Maybe it wasn't blindness. Maybe it was the enormous pressure exerted by Twickenham, a force that can sway judgement to a point like denying South Africa a chance to kick the goal to win the match. If so, we are talking wet-willy funk rather than blindness.
Unconscious, maybe, but a funk.


The Boks may not have deserved to win; they squandered chances, made many basic mistakes and kicker Handre Pollard missed a penalty shortly before Farrell did his impression of a torpedo.

But it was a clear penalty and Gardner's decision not to award one will have diminished him in the eyes of many.

Here's a short list of people who would have been penalised had they done what Farrell did against England at Twickenham:

Any Polynesian or Pasifika player
Any All Black
Any Australian
Any Frenchman
Angus Gardner's mum

On the league front, it may be surprising to upbraid Watene-Zelezniak but he may have a cock-eyed view that what happens on the field stays on the field. His equivocating about being eye-gouged led him to say he wasn't sure it was intentional.

In a long (but sadly not illustrious) rugby career, I was eye-gouged twice, once in New Zealand, once in the UK. Let me tell you – you know whether it is deliberate or not. You feel the fingers searching for the eye socket. It is a totally different feeling to a finger accidentally jabbed in the eye.

Watene-Zelezniak might have dragged on his big boy pants by publicly shrugging off what happened. But here's where he was blind: eye-gouging is right up there with testicle-grabbing and head-stomping; perpetrators deserve to be punished severely.

Sure enough, England forward George Burgess, handed the opportunity, came after being banned for four matches, saying: "I want to make it completely clear to everyone that it was never my intention to ever gouge anyone. It is not in my makeup as a rugby league player and never has been…I accept my punishment but I will never accept that I gouged a fellow player's eye intentionally. I have too much respect for the players I play against and with."

Our last eye-patch goes to All Black assistant coach Ian Foster who somehow managed to make Beauden Barrett's goalkicking some sort of media conspiracy.


"It's more talked about by the media than anything," Foster said when asked about Barrett's kicking form (66 per cent this season; 73 per cent career-wise). " I don't see too many articles saying he's kicked 11 out of 12 in the last three tests but if he kicks two from six and two hit the posts it's like a national calamity."

Here's the thing, Fossie – if he's kicking 11 out of 12, he's doing what an All Black goalkicker should be doing. That's like saying the media should be writing a story about the sea is green and the sky is blue.

Barrett's kicking has occasional, alarming off days. That cannot be denied after the third Lions test last year and the lost Boks test this season. Foster dismissed Barrett's role in the Lions test, saying there were plenty of other factors which led to that draw.

Yes – like another weirdo refereeing decision and the fact the All Blacks blew chances in the first half. But, even if ref Romain Poite hadn't behaved like a weather vane in a gale, there was no guarantee Barrett, in that form, would have kicked the goal that would have won the match – and the series.

Goalkicking is an absolute basic, particularly at test level. And if they were to lose the coming World Cup because of poor goalkicking, well, that would indeed be a bit of a calamity. It's right up there with losing the World Cup because you forgot to put your boots on.

The All Black panel have made a big noise about fielding Damian McKenzie alongside Barrett, intimating it's all about another creative option to take the load off Barrett and put it on the opposition.

Yes, but it also gives them another goalkicking option – something this column has consistently advocated.

The panel have done brilliantly yet again this year. The sight of that young team against Japan was testament to their selecting ability; whoever coaches the All Blacks in 2020 will have a debt of gratitude to the 2018 mob.

But they have a conundrum with Barrett. Encourage him to be No. 1 kicker and take them all in the hope he bangs 'em all over? Or do you field an assistant playmaker who is also a gifted kicker?

I think we know the answer to that one now.