There has been quite a lot of comment, informed and otherwise, around the red card handed to the aptly named French fullback Benjamin Fall.

While most pundits expressed a feeling of regret about the red card, the French prop Uini Antonio went on the offensive – claiming that when playing in New Zealand you were always playing against sixteen opponents.

Accusations of referee bias are nothing new.

I can recall listening to the All Blacks playing "French Selections" in France in bed on my crystal radio set as a youngster and hearing all sorts of comments from the NZBC commentators about the sometimes strange decisions of the local referee, whose chances of getting off the field safely depended on ensuring he was not seen to be favouring the visiting side.


The pendulum usually swung emphatically against the All Blacks.

New Zealand teams in South Africa in 1960, 1970 and 1976 were often subjected to some dubious refereeing decisions.

Test matches were officiated by local referees and the name Piet Robbertse seems seared into my memory for all the wrong reasons.

Back here in New Zealand a few years ago the All Black and Canterbury prop Kerry Tanner was involved in a terse exchange with the referee when he was captaining his beloved Sydenham side on one Saturday afternoon in Christchurch.

One of Tanner's team was injured and had to be assisted from the field.

Before the injured player had reached the sideline, Tanner growled, "Right, enough of this mucking around, let's get on with the game".

"Hang on a minute," commented the referee, "you've got sixteen players on the field".

"That makes it even, then," was Tanner's retort.

I find it unusual that World Rugby's powers-that-be should have cancelled the red card from last Saturday's game.

After all, it was their directive that led to the match officials coming to the only decision open to them at the time as a result of the incident.

There is nothing in the law book about "protecting players in the air".

It was World Rugby who sent out the message that players in the air attempting to catch the ball had all rights, while players on the ground had to ensure the catcher came to ground safely.

If both (or more) players went up in the air competing for the ball and a collision occurred with a player landing unsafely, that was regarded as a fair contest, provided all players were watching the ball and genuinely trying to catch it.

But it can be a fine line between safe and unsafe contests.

The four match officials on Saturday had the advantage of endless replays before making their decision.

Pity your Saturday afternoon local club referee – he has about one, or at most, two seconds to observe intent and consequences before making a decision.

Spectators may have a different view and some aren't too slow in making their disagreement obvious, especially if their team is believed to have been disadvantaged.

World Rugby Inc bosses seem to be constantly tinkering with the laws of the game in efforts to make it safer, while at the same time more appealing to a wider world audience.

Last Saturday's red card was probably an unintended consequence of this tinkering habit and they were quick to try and cover their backs by rescinding the card.

There have been comments about hoping the referee for tonight's test match will take a more "relaxed" approach to the game.

We're talking test match rugby here, where national psyches are involved, so just how "relaxed" can the referee be in adjudicating for a fair contest?

I think the critical point should be ruling only on those infringements that actually impact on the game.

If a player is offside at a ruck or maul and play then moves towards the other side of the ruck or maul, away from the offside player, then coming back for the penalty for an infringement which had no impact on play is rather pedantic.

After last week's column about the tackle area it was refreshing to see Taranaki ref Paul Williams referee this area of the game in what I thought was a fair and accurate manner in the Australia vs Ireland test match in Melbourne.

Players who went to ground beyond the ball illegally were penalised and told to "stay on your feet".

He was also very firm in dealing with players who cleaned out opponents a metre or more away from the tackle or ruck area.

There should be more of that sort of refereeing.

So, sit back and enjoy the third test tonight. Let's hope it is a fair contest and that the best team wins.

I am also hoping there won't be any more contentious game-changing decisions so that Monsieur Antonio can go home with a less bitter taste in his mouth.

Maybe some Bluff oysters might help, in the absence of escargot.