Rough red robs fearless French

The mid air collision that saw Benjamin Fall red carded and Beauden Barrett off the field injured...
The mid air collision that saw Benjamin Fall red carded and Beauden Barrett off the field injured. Photo: Getty Images
Alas, poor France, and to a much lesser extent World Rugby, who will over the next few days come under intense pressure to do something about head injuries, the increasingly dangerous competition for high kicks, and the sentiment that the All Blacks can get away with anything.

What a test for this red card shemozzle to happen. Seven days after Sam Cane and Ofa Tuungafasi got away without a sanction for the accidental collision which left French wing Remy Grosso ruled out of the series with a fractured skull, fullback Benjamin Fall is red-carded for contesting a high kick which left Beauden Barrett with a head injury.

The head is the key point here because it was what prompted referee Angus Gardner, who will come under the most scrutiny of his life after his performance in Wellington tonight, to send Fall, a recent arrival from Montpellier who didn't play at Eden Park, from the field.

"You're not in a realistic position to contest the ball," Gardner told Fall before showing him the red card. "You've hit the player, it's very dangerous, and he's landed on his head. I've got no other option."

The way Barrett fell was the deciding factor for Gardner, and it was almost as though he had been reminded by his paymasters following the Grosso incident that the head is sacrosanct and the punishment for transgressing in this area must be the ultimate sanction.

Unfortunately for France, however, they got the short end of the straw twice in two weeks. Cane, involved in a scuffle in the first half at Westpac Stadium after pushing Morgan Parra to the ground after the halfback cleared the ball, probably should have been sinbinned for his high tackle on Grosso last week which forced the Frenchman into the path of Tuungafasi's right shoulder.

Kelian Gourdon of France makes a break. Photo: Getty Images
Kelian Gourdon of France makes a break. Photo: Getty Images
And a yellow is probably the sanction that should have been handed to Fall by Gardner. The France fullback had eyes only for the ball and was put off balance by All Blacks centre Anton Lienert-Brown before leaping and colliding with Barrett, who was in a higher position, having leaped slightly earlier.

In Fall's absence after 12 minutes, the test, and therefore the series, was effectively over, and there will be more resentment from those around the world that the All Blacks always seem to get favourable decisions from match officials.

A year after All Blacks midfielder Sonny Bill Williams was red-carded here for his no-arms challenge to the head of British & Irish wing Anthony Watson, coach Steve Hansen will probably have sympathy for the French, despite No10 Barrett not returning from his head injury assessment.

The main reason for that will be because the contest for high balls is such a contentious and dangerous area that there is real concern among the All Black hierarchy about where this is all going to end. No more jumping for the ball? Will only the non-kicking team's player allowed to contest for it?

The other contentious area is Gardner's relatively brusque (non-French speaking) approach to France, compared with his more matey relationship with the All Blacks.

The Australian knows many of them from his Super Rugby assignments, but some of it might be seen as a little over the top; including, but not limited to, asking injured All Black skipper and waterboy Kieran Read about his back as Damian McKenzie prepared to convert Jordie Barrett's try just before halftime.

Gardner seemed pleased to hear Read's reply about a possible return for the Crusaders' final three round-robin games. Friendly conversation or over-familiar?

Either way, the timing wasn't great and it could add fuel to the fire.

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