Referee center of attention after late controversial call

It was a controversial ending to perhaps end debate over all previous controversial endings in a rugby test.

The Rugby Championship game between Australia and New Zealand at Melbourne on Thursday finished with the All Blacks eking out a 39-37 win to secure the Bledisloe Cup for a 20th consecutive year.

But the Australians were left confused and devastated after All Blacks fullback Jordie Barrett crossed for a try out wide after the full-time siren to secure the win.

The Wallabies, who rallied from a 31-13 second-half deficit before taking the lead with three minutes remaining, forced a penalty with just over a minute remaining. But as flyhalf Bernard Foley went to kick the ball into touch and possibly end the match, French referee Mathieu Raynal made the rare and unusual call to sanction Foley for time-wasting.

That gave New Zealand a scrum at close range, and that was the platform for Barrett’s match-winning try.

“I haven’t seen a decision like that at any level,” Australia coach Dave Rennie said. “I spoke to Bernard (Foley) after the game and he was under the impression that time was off and the referee had told him to play. At no stage was he told or did he believe he would call a scrum from that.”

“The disappointing thing from our point of view is it was a fantastic game of footy and we should be celebrating the game rather than talking about a referee decision at the end. Let the teams decide the outcome.”

Wallabies great Tim Horan, a two-time World Cup champion and now television analyst, described Raynal’s call as “a disgraceful decision” that the sport’s world governing body needs to review.

“I thought it was a disgraceful decision by the referee and I thought he cracked under pressure,“ Horan said during his post-match analysis. “I reckon you could have another 15 referees, big referees for World Rugby, that would have taken that calmly and wouldn’t have got overawed by the experience — 90 seconds left in the game, and he cracked under pressure.”

The 33-year-old Foley, who Rennie said after the match was “bewildered and shocked,” was making his first start for the Wallabies in three years. He’s been playing in Japan since the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

“I wasn’t trying to slow it down, but I was just trying to get really clear and concise about what we were trying to do at that next lineout,” Foley told local media on Friday. “At the end it was very loud in the stadium, but there was no sense there was going to be a call like that.”

The roof at Marvel Stadium was closed for the match and the capacity crowd was at full volume.

Television replays showed teammate Lalakai Foketi, who had just won a crucial turnover penalty, yelling at Foley to kick the ball.

“I think Lalakai maybe got a reaction from the ref,” Foley said. “In my dealings with (Raynal), he asked (me) to hurry up but had turned the clock off. He never told me he turned it back on or there would be other repercussions.

“It was pretty loud in the stadium there with 55,000 people. (I am still) trying to digest the whole situation.”

Former England international Stuart Barnes described Raynal’s match-defining decision as one of “abject stupidity” in a column for The Times.

“The match in Melbourne between Australia and New Zealand had it all . . . but more than anything else, it will be remembered for a decision made by the referee, Mathieu Raynal, that will forever be regarded somewhere between the worst and most bizarre that international rugby has yet to witness,” Barnes wrote.

“Foley was doing what any kicker in the world would do, setting himself to make sure he didn’t slice the ball in-field and, yes, taking another five or 10 seconds up. He wasn’t cynically ending the contest.”

As a counter-point to the Australian complaints, All Blacks coach Ian Foster, quite predictably considering his team had won just three of its previous seven tests and hadn’t put back-to-back victories together in 2022, said the referee’s decision was correct.

“I understand there is a contentious nature about it, but it was very clear-cut from our position,” Foster said. “The Wallabies were delaying the kick and he (Raynal) warned them. If people think that decided the test match, well then you’re going to go through and analyze all the other decisions in the game, too.”

With the win, the All Blacks remained in first place in the Rugby Championship standings with 14 points, four head of Australia. South Africa and Argentina, with nine points each, play in Buenos Aires on Saturday.

The Wallabies and All Blacks play again next weekend in Auckland, where Australia hasn’t won a test match since 1986. The Springboks and Pumas play again in Argentina to close out the tournament.

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