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A GOOD start to the year by the All Blacks was clouded by a knee jerk piece of refereeing.

Welsh born Englishman Luke Pearce is not a stranger to controversy - he was once set upon by a disgruntled fan after a club game in the UK. This was by far the biggest match of his career, and one mistake was all it took.

Pearce went with his instincts when he saw Ryan Crotty felled by French lock Paul Gabrillagues and reached for his pocket.

Had he taken a deep breath and consulted with his colleagues it would have been a penalty only. It had the effect of making his next big decision look worse, when he chose to “only” penalise Sam Cane for a high shot that was at least closer to a yellow card offence. 

A greater debate is raging over whether he was correct to take no action against Ofa Tu’ungafasi for his role in the facial injury suffered by French winger Remi Grosso. His belief was it was accidental, that the player fell in to the Tu’ungafasi shoulder, the citing commissioner agreed, and so too now, has the French coach. 

That hasn’t stopped the international media weighing in, escalating claims that the All Blacks get preferential treatment.

This includes a tweet from World Rugby deputy Gus Pichot, whose flash comments via social media are starting to disturb, and a mealy mouthed piece in a British newspaper by Rob Debney, whose judgments on the game outstrip his modest reputation as a referee.

Debney believes referees subconsciously favour the All Blacks. Perhaps he was unconscious during last year’s Lions tour.

Fact is the match had already started to flow strongly in New Zealand’s favour before Pearce went to his pocket.

Once the All Blacks got their game going, and especially when the bench started to take its toll of a fatiguing French team, it was only going to end one way.

It might have been better had Gabrillagues not been yellowed and Sam Cane had. It’s doubtful the outcome would have been much different.

Trouble is, this view of the All Blacks “getting away with murder” is gaining traction. Yellow cards and penalties were a constant blight last year and, and the reaction to Saturdays events will ensure even greater scrutiny down the line.


Karl Tu’inukuafe might just be the find of the year. First scrum in test rugby and he made like a bulldozer.

Damien McKenzie and Ngani Laumape caused havoc late in the game, and TJ Perenara usually brings a bit with him off the pine.
Performances like those of McKenzie and Laumape will always bring calls for them to start, but strike use of subs can play a massive role in a World Cup - remember SBW at Twickenham?

Depth is not just about filling gaps for the injured. It’s about sustaining a team’s performance, maybe even upping it through the course of 80 minutes, and if the All Blacks can get all of their key personnel together, they will have a heck of a bench come Japan 2019.


It may be an old stadium in one of the rougher parts of Johannesburg, where the thin air leaves the throat dry and the lungs screaming, but it just keeps staging great test matches.

This was a corker, with England taking full toll of early chaos in  the Springboks wide defense to mount a sizeable lead, only for the Boks came roaring back to claim the game in the middle stages and hold on against a desperate late England bid.

Most impressive for the Boks were new lock RG Snyman (Rudolph Gerhardus if you can’t be bothered googling) and the returning prodigal son Faf de Klerk.

De Klerk ‘s pass is still suspect, but his zappy play around the fringes was a key to the win, and his battle with England lock Maro Itoje worth the price of the ticket alone.

That David Goliath battle went the way of the original, de Klerk’s try making Itoje look foolish and goading the England rock star into a succession of cheap shots, and a performance that suggest he might just be a tad over rated.


A very good start to the year for the Wallabies, overcoming a strong Irish team that could not turn opportunities into points.
David Pocock was quite phenomenal on his return, a rare player with the ability to lift an entire team. 

Ireland will need to make more of its chances, and with a stronger starting 15 likely to take the field in Melbourne, this series is set up beautifully.


Argentina’s test team is the same as the Jaguares, right? So why did they bear no resemblance in the first test against Wales?

OK, so it’s a step up to test level, and a below strength Wales team did play very well, organized, efficient, getting full value from their “line speed” on defense, and producing a couple of lovely skill flourishes to create tries.

But the Pumas played with little fire in their bellies, and simply went back to old habits we thought had been ironed out of them by Jags boss Mario Ledesma.

Time might be ticking on Pumas coach Daniel Hourcade…any more of this and Ledesma is in for a rapid promotion.