After the All Blacks’ 26-13 win last night we were sitting under a cold grandstand. The media were preparing to ask Steve Hansen about something he probably did not want to talk about, but knew would be asked – again.
Last weekend it was Eden Park and the yellow card issued to Paul Gabrillagues, and those not given to Sam Cane and Ofa Tu’ungafasi. This time it was the red given to French player Benjamin Fall.
It came after 10 minutes of French dominance at Westpac Stadium, in which they got as close as possible to scoring a try without actually getting the points on the board. Geoffrey Doumayrou was held up over the line and it looked as though the French had turned things around from last week.
Then came the Fall from grace. A bomb came down for Beauden Barrett and the French fullback managed to get himself tangled up underneath. It came down to the way Barrett landed and, unfortunately for Fall, it was ugly.
Barrett landed on his head. Dangerous, scary, and exactly the opposite of what the 34,000-strong crowd had come to see the Hurricanes first five-eighth do. It left referee Angus Gardner with only one course of action: Send Fall from the field, meaning that Westpac Stadium was again scene of a test red card, following Sonny Bill Williams’ one against the British and Irish Lions last year.
Thanks to social media, the debate about the red card was well underway before Fall had even reached the sideline. The narrative around the All Blacks’ preferential treatment was at the fore – more emotional nonsense.
However, that became truer halfway through the first half when Sam Cane smashed Morgan Parra in a late hit. Although that ended up being a penalty, Cane has now ridden his luck two weeks in a row and is unlikely to have such a sympathetic appraisal of his brutal style of play in the future.
Hansen did talk more about the red than many reporters thought he would. After all, it wasn’t the All Blacks’ fault, so he was content to offer up at least an opinion.
“Red cards always have an effect,” he said.
He went on to defend the ref’s call saying the letter of the law meant Gardner had to give it, however agreed it “spoils the game”.
He recommended a different way of dealing with such incidents, which was likely to be the main talking point among rugby folk for the next week, a least. Hansen favoured an NRL-style report system, which would be a most sensible solution.
That’s unlikely, given that World Rugby refuse to entertain the notion of simplifying TMO referrals for fear of having a similar system to the rival code.
There is another solution, though. Instead of sending a player off for good, simply have a 10 minute sin bin period, then replace them. After all, red cards are a result of one player’s actions, whether clumsy or malicious.
They are the ones who should be punished, not the team. Not to mention that people have paid to watch the game. This way, the offending team is forced to use a substitute and the game can continue as a contest.
But let’s not forget there were other factors in why this was a forgettable test match. The All Blacks lost Beauden Barrett in that incident, emptied their bench early in the second half and, simply, played badly.
But once again, we’ll be talking about a card this week. Not the first this series, nor this season. All we can do is hope to get through the third test next weekend without one.