The Aussies bounced back from their trouncing in Sydney a week ago to down the All Blacks 24-22 in a chaotic match that featured two red cards and two yellow cards.
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All Blacks forward Ofa Tu’ungafasi was the first to receive his marching orders after a high shot in the first half that looked accidental, but far from malicious.
However, the Wallabies blew their one-man advantage when debutant flanker Lachie Swinton also received a first half red card for a similar offence.
Tu’ungafasi’s hit on Tom Wright brought pats on the back at first, before replays showed his shoulder had made marginal contact with his chin.
He was subsequently marched by referee Nic Berry, while Swinton left him no choice but to produce the same colour soon after when he collected Sam Whitelock without using his arms in the tackle.
Their departures changed the dynamic of the contest, with Australia controlling the chaos better to escape with a narrow win in a series already secured by the visitors.
The send-offs sparked heated debate about the lack of wiggle room in the law, which suggests contact with the head should result in a red card.
Fox Sports commentators Justin Harrison and Phil Kearns were both highly critical of the rulings.
“We talk about the framework of the rule changes that safety is the intent, but both of these players who received direct shots to the chin weren’t directed to go to the HIA for assessment so lets talk about mitigating factors,” Harrison said.
“We know that players don’t go out with the intent to take people’s heads off, what they do go out with through is with the intent to hit people as hard as they can. When you are moving as fast as you can as hard as you can and you’ve got 125kg that commits to a target, it’s very difficult to change that framework of decision.
Former Wallabies captain Kearns insisted that the strict rules threatened to turn viewers off the sport.
“There’s got to be a better way. For me, yellow card, put them on report and then go to the judiciary afterwards. Ruining the game, ruining the spectacle.”
Viewers were also outraged by the red cards, with the majority of social media reaction focusing on the fact that they were unfortunate accidents that happen in Test rugby.
Rugby world rages over red cards
The majority of viewers seemed to agree that a yellow card would have been suffice in both circumstances, with many agreeing that the harsh laws were ruining the spectacle.
That has been a quality tackle for 197 years.
A red card is absolute insanity.#ausvnz
— Mike Thorpe (@MikeThorpeTVNZ) November 7, 2020
I don’t agree with either red card . And I understand the laws
— Ric Salizzo (@ricsalizzo) November 7, 2020
Very tough red card for All Black prop, yes? No evil intent on his part?#Bledisloe
Wallabies ahead 8-5 and playing much better.
— Peter FitzSimons (@Peter_Fitz) November 7, 2020
That wasn’t even close to a penalty in my book let alone a red. Knees bent, good hit. Slo mo replay x 1000 always looks worse
— Tom Sacre (@Sacre88) November 7, 2020
Yep yellow at worst – ruins the game
— Allan Quays (@jaimitomondo) November 7, 2020
This is why no one watches this rubbish sport anymore it’s beyond laughable they ruined the World Cup with this crap also.
— Gman (@GaZZaRibbon) November 7, 2020
If that’s a red card then rugby is properly broken. It’s a physical game, accidents happen. It wasn’t deliberate, penalty is punishment enough.
— Cogs (@Wallywalta) November 7, 2020
No way that was worth a red – seriously I am finished with rugby as it’s officiated now. Stopped going to games years ago – turned it off now
— Hoaratio Raddish III (@HoaratioRaddish) November 7, 2020
All Blacks captain Sam Cane lamented after the game that avoiding a repeat of the red card chaos would be hard to avoid, given the frenetic nature of Test rugby.
Only five All Blacks have been sent off since the first in 1925, but three have come since 2017 as laws around high shots tightened.
All Blacks coach Ian Foster admitted the “rugby spectacle” was spoiled because of the duo’s departures and Cane lamented how tough it was to toe the line between effective and illegal.
“It’s a fast moving game with big collisions and every now and then players are going to get it slightly wrong,” he said.
“And I don’t think either of those cards were malicious or dirty plays by any means, just fractionally off.
“We spend a lot of time practising, but in top sport like this there will be the odd error.”
But Wallabies captain Michael Hooper said players had no excuses and should respect laws designed to keep players safe.
“We don’t train to tackle around the head and we have to talk about player safety … we want players playing as long as we possibly can in this game,” he said.
“If that’s the interpretation from up top we’ve got to be better and tackle lower.”
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