WELLINGTON – Red cards are spoiling Test rugby, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen argued on Sunday as fallout from the one that blighted the second Test between the All Blacks and France continued.
There was a reluctant acceptance that under the laws of the game, referee Angus Gardner had no option but to dismiss French fullback Benjamin Fall after his mid-air collision with Beauden Barrett in Wellington on Saturday.
Even so, both teams said that in the spirit of the game, Fall should not have been given his marching orders and the problem lay with a rigid interpretation of the rules. With France reduced to 14 men after Fall was dismissed in the 12th minute, the game was as good as over as the All Blacks went on to win 26-13 to wrap up the three-Test series.
But even with a one-man advantage, the All Blacks struggled and after building a 21-6 buffer by half-time, they were outplayed and outscored in the second half. Hansen called for a laws revamp, saying Falls' contact with Barrett was not intentional and the Frenchman should have remained on the field. He suggested that if Barrett had not fallen on his head there would have been no red card.
"Is it Beauden falling on his head or is it because they both went and contested for the ball?," he said.
"Unintentional collisions, that result in people landing the wrong way, being hurt; there's got to be some wriggle room for that. It's spoiling test matches -- red cards for unintentional incidents."
When All Blacks prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi collided with the head of Remy Grosso last week, causing a double facial fracture, he escaped penalty -- the accidental nature of the hit meant it did not meet the threshold for a red card.
All Blacks wing Ben Smith, an expert under the high ball, said it was tough on Fall to be sent off.
"I feel sorry for him, but (the referee) is just going off the rules and what he has seen. I think it is a really tough one because you still want that contest but it is getting very hard to rule on," Smith said.
"It happens pretty quickly... It is hard because the guys go up and you lose your feet but that is the way it is and it is part of the game."
Barrett fell head first into the turf and left the field with concussion, making him an unlikely starter in the third and final Test next week in Dunedin.
His brother Jordie, the All Blacks fullback, said it was a "scary" collision but players knew it was an occupational hazard.
"You know you are in a vulnerable position when you contest for the ball. At times you do fall awkwardly and as we saw (Beauden's) was worse than other ones," the younger Barrett said.
"From a catching point of view, you can't think about it though.
"If you go up worrying someone's going to hit you, you're not going to catch the ball nine times out 10. You've just got to trust other players have a duty of care."
France coach Jacques Brunel said his fullback deserved a yellow card at least, but was unsure whether a red was warranted. However, inside centre Geoffrey Doumayrou was adamant Fall should not have been sent off and said the fullback was knocked off balance by Anton Lienert-Brown as he rose to contest the ball.
"It was never" a red card, Doumayrou said.
Fall is to appear before a judicial hearing late Sunday.