Friday 19 January 2018

All blacks playing the 'aura' card perfectly

Sonny Bill Williams off-loads as Brian O'Driscoll tackles STEPHEN MCCARTHY
Sonny Bill Williams off-loads as Brian O'Driscoll tackles STEPHEN MCCARTHY

Maybe Matt Williams is right. The amiable Australian bemoaned the deference paid to New Zealand during the week by parading a polystyrene cup with the letters 'BNZ' written upon it.

"They're just bloody New Zealanders," he moaned. "Stop calling them All Blacks." The aura surrounding the All Blacks -- sorry, Matt, bloody New Zealanders -- appears to afflict referees too.

Firstly, a caveat. Marius Jonker did not cost Ireland the match. Not by a long chalk. He allowed Ireland to repeatedly collapse a scrum without punishment in the second half. Ireland's first try benefited from a glaring forward pass.

Yet the prevailing mood following Saturday's refereeing inconsistencies alighted once more upon the suspicion that the 'BNZ' are treated more leniently than all other leading teams in terms of discipline, with most focus alighting on the breakdown and their captain, Richie McCaw. Analysis from the Tri Nations recently revealed that South Africa are the most regularly penalised, conceding six penalties per yellow card. Australia's ratio was seven to one.

The 'BNZ', however, conceded 43 penalties a yellow card. Coincidence or clear evidence that cheating succeeds at the highest level? Is McCaw the best flanker in the world because of official collusion or is he simply so good that he never gets caught?

"There was a lot of ball slowed down," offered Declan Kidney as diplomatically as he could. "I've met Marius and he's a good man."

Keith Earls enthusiastically assented when presented with the assertion that the opponents were allowed a little more largesse than would seem polite. Stephen Ferris was positively fuming.

"If I was a referee, I would have handed out a few yellows," he insisted. "You find you get quick ball in the middle of the field, but when it moved into their 22, it suddenly slows up. It's always the same old faces. It's very frustrating."

At one stage in the first half, as Ireland probed deep in the red zone, Jonker appeared to reach for a card in his pocket yet mysteriously withdrew from the action; was it because he may have had to bin McCaw, and suddenly become a cause celebre?

It was no surprise that the world's best referee, Alain Rolland, had little cause to defer to the 'BNZ' in Hong Kong recently; hence, it was no coincidence that Australia were able to emerge with the victory once the 'BNZ's sneaky defensive weapon was nullified by stern officialdom.

Sadly, few other referees have been willing to follow Rolland's credo.

The man who lives this charmed existence continues to swat away concerns about his style. "It's really important to play the ref," said McCaw. "You have to understand your limits. You play what you're allowed to play."

The trouble is that they are given more licence than others. Even referees should remember that they're only 'BNZ'!

David Kelly

Irish Independent

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