Gregor Paul in Paris
On a night when South Africa so bravely and brilliantly found a way to win their fourth World Cup, New Zealand faced the tricky challenge of trying to make sense of a madly inconsistent and overbearing performance by the officials without apportioning blame or sounding bitter.
Much like their heart-breaking exit the last time the World Cup was held in France in 2007, the All Blacks were the victims of Wayne Barnes getting more than a few things wrong, but more so, they were victims of their own failure to seize the opportunities they so bravely fought to give themselves.
On a night when there was so much to unpack, so many micro-moments of significance, a hundred arguments and more could be made to say the difference between the two was South Africa’s resolute and unbreakable defence, led by the indefatigable and quite brilliant Pieter-Steph du Toit.
Or that it was two missed kicks at goal by the All Blacks, or the decisions not to kick for goal.
This is the beauty of a final - it’s easy to look back and see significance in this and that, for the losers to lament the missed opportunities and for the winners to give none of the detail a second thought.
But easier still, and beyond any reasonable doubt, is that this final was unusual in that it was more heavily influenced by macro moments - big, big decisions that heavily swung the balance of the game.
Of course, here we are talking about the fate of the respective captains and the decision to red-card Sam Cane, while Siya Kolisi escaped with a yellow.
The dispute doesn’t sit with the red card, as no one could mount any reasonable defence for Cane.
It was a fair cop, and he was bang to rights done for what was effectively a failing of slow reactions rather than any malicious intent.
But there does have to be a somewhat quizzical and confused reaction to the decision to not also red-card Kolisi, who appeared, certainly to the layperson’s eyes at least, to be equally guilty of coming in upright, being a bit slow to adjust and making direct contact with Ardie Savea’s head.
No doubt the officials will feel they can justify the decision, but fans around the world really don’t want to see two massively similar incidents and yet be told they were radically different.
And this is rugby’s biggest problem now, that it leaves itself vulnerable to the entirely subjective decision-making of its Television Match Official (TMO).
A World Cup final was largely determined on the basis that TMO Tom Foley saw Kolisi dip his body height by what most would agree was an imperceptible margin, and fans, broadcasters and certainly the All Blacks have every reason to feel bemused that one man can wield so much power.
“I don’t want the game to be about us talking about red cards,” offered a clearly emotional and almost shell-shocked All Blacks coach Ian Foster.
“It is what it is. There will be plenty of time to analyse. There was an attempt to wrap [by Sam Cane], there didn’t seem to be a lot of force in the contact.
“But the hit on Ardie had a lot of force going into the contact and had a direct contact with the head, so the game has a few issues it has to sort out and that is not sour grapes.
“It is that you have got two different situations with different variables and one is a red card and one is a yellow card. And that is the game.”
It’s frankly mad that rugby wants to be held hostage by its own desire to let individuals interpret rather than a law book determine, and even more mad that it simply can’t decide on what role it wants technology to play in helping the sport tidy up its officiating.
Some will say it’s churlish, spiteful, and heartless, even, to have this debate on the night the Springboks made history and once again did their bit to unite a country that has real and devastating problems.
Here’s a country that is beset by endemic violence, murders, rapes, corruption in the highest places and is suffering from systemic failures in its infrastructure - and the Springboks have written yet another wonderful chapter in how to inspire a nation by showing what is possible through cohesion and unity.
But it is possible to salute their resilience, respect their right to proudly declare themselves back-to-back champions, and still have the debate about what rugby is going to do about its confused and, at times, conflicting relationship between referee and TMO.
It makes no sense that the TMO could interfere to disallow Aaron Smith’s try for a knock-on in the build-up - despite the fact Barnes saw it in real time and said play on – and yet, there was no ability to interfere when Barnes realised he was wrong to have penalised Savea in the first half for what he could see on the big screen replay was a legitimate turnover.
It’s partly the inconsistency that kills the fan interest, but also the uncertainty of who has jurisdiction over what - and the World Cup ended up with a marvellous final, but it was one overly influenced by the drama that resulted from its confused use of technology.
“Probably for the game to decide at some point, it is not tonight,” said Foster when he was asked whether the TMO had too much influence.
“We got the same behaviour from that TMO that we got in the Irish series last year, same TMO. So we expected what we got.”
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Gregor Paul is one of New Zealand’s most respected rugby writers and columnists. He has won multiple awards for journalism and has written several books about sport.