The big problem with Damian McKenzie's try

Opinion 24/06/2018
Photo credit: Photosport.

OPINION: You've really got to hand it to these All Blacks coaches. Geniuses.

Remember before the June series against the French, Beauden Barrett teased us all with suggestions the All Blacks were preparing to unleash a bold, innovative new playing style? That the coaches had spotted a few trends after watching Super Rugby and the northern hemisphere season that could help the All Blacks go to the next level?

What could it be we all wondered? Well I think we saw it last night.

Using the referee as a shield in the opposition defensive line. That is revolutionary, next level, outside the box, thinking that is. Rush defence? Use the man with the whistle to take him out!

Aaron Smith and Damian McKenzie used the new tactic to brilliant effect in Dunedin to give the All Blacks the advantage heading into the break. The referee John Lacey nailed his role too - running a defensive screen that prevented French halfback Baptiste Serin from making a covering tackle on McKenzie, who sailed through a gap so big he had time to pause and perform a pirouette and sail under the posts.

Lacey of course checked with the omnipresent George Ayoub to make sure all was in order. But while many of us at home, including this writer, as well as former players in the commentary box and on expert panels were left open-mouthed catching flies when Lacey blew his whistle to confirm the try, it turns out Lacey was right. Rule 6-10 states: If the ball or the ball-carrier touches the referee or other non-player and neither team gains an advantage, play continues. If either team gains an advantage in the field of play, a scrum is awarded to the team that last played the ball.

No mention of defenders or tacklers in there. And in the post-match press conference, Steve Hansen with a figurative tap-of-the-head, was in the know.

"There is nowhere in the rule book that says the referee can cause obstruction. So, he's got to stand somewhere. And it's not our fault that our guy ran close to where he was standing, it's happened to us a few times in the past.

"I think people are clutching at straws there, what do they want him to do? Click his fingers and disappear? I don't know. I don't understand why they'd get upset about it, personally."

I guess the reason people get upset is because it makes the game look like a joke. Anyone watching a game of rugby for the first time last night would have been utterly incredulous at what they saw.

"Are you telling me a referee can take out a defender, and that's fine?"

"Ummm... hang on let me just google the rules. Umm. Yeah. I *think* they can."

A sheepish look and a sip of the beer follows.

This is rugby folks. Just because it's the rules, doesn't make it right. Call me stupid, but I'm calling that a stupid rule. Given I'm clearly not an expert on the rules of rugby (and not alone judging by what I read and heard last night), I'd invite anyone to show me another sport which allows a referee to have a material impact on a scoring play. I'll wait.

As for the "where's the referee supposed to stand" argument, I'm very interested to know the view of World Rugby on that once Lacey's performance is reviewed.

But for all the criticism aimed at referees throughout this series, at least we can't blame Lacey for not knowing the rules. He nailed it. But that doesn't make it right. The All Blacks may have been the ones to benefit from what can only be described as an oversight in the laws, but this is a rule World Rugby needs to address.

Andrew Gourdie is a Newshub sports reporter/presenter and host of RadioLIVE's Sunday Sport.