Tuesday 20 March 2018

Neil Francis: New Zealanders would not have tried such cynical malevolence with Nigel Owens in charge

Sam Cane's challenge on Robbie Henshaw
Sam Cane's challenge on Robbie Henshaw
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

He who pays the Peyper calls the tune! We suspected that on Tuesday night the bottlers would bottle it and our suspicions were confirmed.

Sam Cane walks and Malakai Fekitoa gets a free week in Paris. All of these committees, from disciplinary panels to referee appointments panels - if they were put in charge of the Sahara within a week there would be a shortage of sand.

World Rugby have a chance to show that the law of natural justice could tip the balance of rights back in favour of the wronged. They decide who gets to referee which match. Quite how some referees get to arbitrate in some of the biggest matches is beyond me - I'm sure there is a rational reason for it.

What, though, is the sanction for dereliction of duty? I would pay hard currency to see Chris White's written assessment on Jaco Peyper's performance.

Would he get a sharp rebuke, along the lines of: "Your performance fell below the level we would expect from a 'top' referee last Saturday; you also underperformed in Paris nine months ago where you let blatant foul play go unhindered. That is unacceptable and as a consequence we will be replacing you in the England v Australia game on December 3."


Here is the reason this must be done - because Peyper showed weakness last Saturday, and he showed weakness from the first kick off; it altered the complexion of the game.

Three years ago Nigel Owens refereed the same fixture at the Aviva. Owens made the big call to penalise Jack McGrath for sealing off and it turned the game and New Zealand won at the death - dem's the breaks! It took everyone on this island a long time to recover from that one.

Far as I can remember there were no cards, only 13 penalties all match and practically no foul play. The All Blacks won that game through their skill and the brilliance of their team dynamic. They were physical but played within the rules.

With Owens on the field, the All Blacks would not have dared pull some of the sh*t they got away with last Saturday. There is no question that the All Blacks knew that a weak referee was in the middle and set out their stall accordingly, knowing that they could push the boundaries past an acceptable limit and get away with it.

If Owens had been in charge, it would have been a completely different game.

Kieran Read would have been penalised from the first kick off and Cane would have walked.

New Zealand play the referees like no-one else can. In the 2011 World Cup final Craig Joubert gave a simply shameful exhibition of abdicating responsibility. Any semblance of balance or judgment went out the window as he let the All Blacks do what they wanted in the second half.

Everybody in the free world recognised the injustice of the occasion and yet we all emulated the French with the indifference of their trademark Gallic shrug.

The England v Australia game will be a no-holds-barred encounter; will the 85,000 present and the millions watching have to be held hostage to yet another deficient and weak-willed under-performance?

There are also the economic consequences. When the season finishes, most of the top referees won't be found sipping Pina Coladas in Sandy Lane. They are not particularly well paid. A Test match fee I believe is around the €2,000 plus expenses. On the basis of his performances in Dublin and Paris, Peyper should lose the gig. Small recompense, but warranted.

Robbie Henshaw forfeits a possible €9,000 by missing out on the Australia game. What justice does he get? He is out for three weeks or so and is now more susceptible to getting another concussion. Maybe if the perpetrators were made to pay for the match fees that their victims lose, that might just tidy up the game a little better.

On to Cane so! Earlier in the season in a SuperRugby game, Jaguars tighthead Nahuel Chaparro had to leave the field on a stretcher as a result of a dreadful shoulder-to-face assault. Playing that day at No 7 for the Waikato Chiefs was Sam Cane. He led with the shoulder into Chaparro's face, and then the two players' heads collided for a second hit. It's on YouTube and is worth a look.

Cane had the case against him dismissed, and like Tuesday he was free to play. Was his previous taken into consideration? The thing about the Henshaw-Cane incident is this: if 20 people witness a car crash, the police will undoubtedly get 20 different versions of what happened.

Here is the law: "A player must not tackle or try to tackle an opponent above the line of shoulders, even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders."

Cane leads with the shoulder into the face of Henshaw, just as he did with Chaparro. He now has gotten away with it twice and will undoubtedly do it again until some player who is sick of the referees' inability to act or his superiors take the law into their own hands.

This brings me on to a point about the change in mental state of the All Blacks. To my mind France, Argentina and South Africa are way ahead in terms of being nations that traditionally dish out the dirty stuff. The All Blacks are no angels but there were instances in the match in Dublin which disturbed me.

This is the kernel of the issue: how to make an illegal tackle look legal or accidental.

Back to the 20 people at the car crash: there was a significant body of opinion who thought that the Cane tackle was an accident, that Henshaw turned into him and Cane was already committed, some people even suggesting that it was not even a penalty.

The video proof is irrefutable: Cane led with the shoulder to Henshaw's face.

What happened afterwards was sinister - the faux attempt to wrap to make it look like a legitimate tackle after the damage was already done, with Henshaw concussed.

The difference between the citings was that Fekitoa's tackle, even though reckless and dangerous, was an act of stupidity, whereas Cane's tackle, well in my view, that was something entirely different.

In the hitman's guide you get extra points for blindsiding the man.

Kieran Read's charge from the first kick-off was equally cynical. The laws state that you can't tackle a player in the air when he is playing the ball. Read knows that, and when he saw that Sean O'Brien was going to catch the ball, he changed his play and clattered into CJ Stander, who was lifting O'Brien into the air.

Stander didn't have the ball but that was inconsequential. Read took Stander out and Stander promptly dropped O'Brien to the floor. Peyper let the foul go and that set the tone for the day.

Read also knew that as captain of the All Blacks he has diplomatic immunity and will actually have to murder someone in cold blood on the pitch before he is sent off.

When Ireland were pushing New Zealand over the line by the posts, I mistakenly thought it was Liam Squire who had detached from the scrum, wandered off-side and then jumped into the back of the Irish scrum with the ball at Jamie Heaslip's feet. In fact it was Read who came all the way from the No 8 slot to save his line .

In most referees' books that was a penalty try and a yellow card. Read looked at Peyper and Peyper looked at Read as if to say "sorry old bean, diplomatic immunity". What did it for me was the lack of embarrassment from both men.


Read, a genuine superstar and one of the great modern players committing an act you wouldn't see in a junior sixths game from a player who doesn't know the rules of the game.

Peyper, who watched him do it, without compunction awarded only a penalty. The All Blacks are pathological near their own line.

Knowledge of the law is one thing, having the balls to apply it is entirely another. There was darkness on the edge of town feel to the way New Zealand played last Saturday.

There was brooding malevolence and I have not seen such a visceral performance from a team who up to Saturday had always used skill and inventiveness to win games.

If there had been a strong referee in charge this would have been a completely different game. I'm not saying Ireland could or would have won it but the Lord of the Flies element would have been taken out of the game.

Edmund Burke's over-used adage is sadly still relevant here: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Peyper's performance was unacceptably weak. World Rugby has to appoint another referee for the England vs Australia game.

Irish Independent

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