World Rugby has a serious issue on its hands and it needs to be sorted promptly.
I’m referring to the Owen Farrell tackle at Twickenham last weekend in the England-South Africa Test. The game came down to one final decision by the officials. True winners of games have the result sorted before they can be decided by last decisions like this one was.
The referees bottled themselves. It was a terrible decision and World Rugby should be looking at the referees sideways. There needs to be an explanation to say why that was not a yellow card; at minimum it was a penalty; and how the hell did they not do anything about that tackle, even by citing it afterwards?
It was a terrible tackle and the decision was an absolute disgrace and a blight on world rugby; the sooner the top administrators take some ownership of that, like they have on other controversial decisions, the better.
My comments are completely independent. The All Blacks have had Sonny Bill Williams sent off in Lions series, we’ve had all sorts of stuff go on and we’ve taken it on the chin. But when it’s not our team, and I was watching that as a complete independent, there could only have been one decision, and that was a yellow card every day of the week.
We’ve heard about below-the-nipple line, and all sorts of other directives but when the time comes in a really important game for a decision to be made, no-one was prepared to have the cojones to make a decision.
I note that former England player Andy Goode has said World Rugby needs to make a statement on the tackle and I couldn’t agree more. There needs to be clarity on this because, just as happened on this occasion, games are going to be decided on these sorts of decisions, one way or the other. You would hate to see a Rugby World Cup final decided on such a ruling.
Looking at the All Blacks return to Twickenham this weekend, there has been a lot of rejoicing from England fans that their team is back and has regained its mojo. That may be the case but you would have to say that the Springboks team on display at Twickenham last week was nowhere near comparable to the side the All Blacks met in their two Rugby Championship clashes.
And even then, South Africa blew several chances in the game. England weren’t great but South Africa were poor.
The fact that England couldn’t score a try against the Springboks should not really be a surprise. That has always been the way for England. You can go back 40 years and say they have struggled to score tries. That is just not their strength.
Their strength is when they play as a team and their set-piece is on fire. They’re at their best when they are being directed around the field and are smothering teams. The All Blacks don’t like being smothered and are the hardest team in the world to smother.
We saw that with the Lions as well: defence, structure, set-piece, says everything about UK rugby. The All Blacks’ set-piece is good, the defence is good; but their attack and creativity is that much better. And therein lies the difference in styles that the All Blacks coaching staff have been talking about this week.
What is always important in these games is that the All Blacks go into it with the right attitude. If they have that then it is going to be the All Blacks’ game every week. England will play their very best, and if the All Blacks haven’t got their attitude right then England will have an opportunity.
But in reality, this game has been talked about for a long time, and it would be very difficult to believe that the All Blacks won’t be in the right frame of mind. They’ve seen all the comments and they won’t be affected by the fact England have had some issues this year. It is England, and performing well against them will be on the All Blacks’ minds.
On another matter, looking back to the past fortnight, is the outstanding success that the decision to take extra players to Japan proved.
There was a lot of comment about the ploy and what it meant for the New Zealand jersey, but there was no disrespect to the All Blacks’ legacy in Tokyo. Those players who got a taste of Test rugby for the first time represented the jersey with pride. Once again, the All Blacks management have pulled off a masterstroke by continuing the same sort of thinking that allowed New Zealand to easily transition after the 2015 World Cup. Despite the loss of some of the game’s all-time greats, they have continued to to dominate world rugby over the years since.
When there are changes after next year’s World Cup, there is a core of players who now know what Test rugby is about, and the work that goes into succeeding. Not all of them will make it, but the selectors have given them a chance and now it is up to them.
It was no surprise that George Bridge did so well when he came on at halftime for the unfortunate Nehe Milner-Skudder, a player who is overdue some better luck. Bridge has been so good all year and he continues to get better. His tries were typical of his play, hard-running and chasing, putting pressure on defenders and finishing plays in an accomplished fashion.
Richie Mo’unga looked very much a class act and he will be causing some tactical discussions among the All Blacks selectors as they look to their options in future, and probably during this northern tour where they can try some things. We’ve already seen that with them starting Damian McKenzie at fullback against Australia. There’s no doubt that Mo’unga has added to the combinations they have at their disposal.
Ngani Laumape also took his chance to keep his hand up for a midfield role and it was interesting to see he and his Hurricanes midfield mate Matt Proctor do so well in midfield. Proctor demonstrated why the selectors had been so keen to have a look at him and he won’t have done his chances any harm.
While both positions are crowded, the pair of them are only ever an injury away from being involved, if they aren’t already in the squad. And Steve Hansen has made the point, which is pertinent, that the Japan game was about 2020 and beyond. By giving those players a taste of what was involved in Test preparation and allowing them to go back to their Super Rugby franchises to work on their games, the longer-term planning is already underway.