Category Archives: France

After nine years, Wayne Barnes still cannot tell a forward pass

BRITISH rugby referee Wayne Barnes is well known as the man who helped France defeat the All Blacks in the quarter-final of the 2007 World Cup, failing to spot a blatant forward pass that led to a French try.

France won that game 20-18, a match that was remarkable also for the fact that Barnes did not find a single infringement by the French in the second half worthy of a penalty.

In the World Cup final of 2015, Barnes was a linesman and failed to see that a pass from New Zealand winger Nehe Milner-Skudder to flanker Jerome Kaino was miles off the horizontal; New Zealand benefitted by three points as a result of a penalty shortly thereafter. And when Wales played South Africa in the pool games of that same World Cup, Barnes could not spot a conversion that would have given Wales victory.

On Saturday night, in Auckland, Barnes showed that he still does not know how to judge a forward pass.

Eight minutes from the close of the first New Zealand-Wales Test, with the hosts ahead 32-21, standoff Aaron Cruden threw a clever dummy, made his way through a few Welsh players and then passed to substitute scrum-half T.J. Perenara who ran in to score close to the posts.

Cruden’s pass was kosher; the International Rugby Board rules clearly say that if a player’s hands are pointed away from the horizontal, then the pass is fine, even if the ball does go forward. This rule is put in place because the ball may float forwards due to a wind factor.

Barnes asked the television match official to check a replay and see if the pass was forward. When the TMO, Australia’s George Ayoub, advised Barnes that the pass was fine, Barnes called for another viewing of the action on the big screen.

Ayoub than repeated his verdict: you can award the try. But Barnes chose to overrule Ayoub and disallowed the try, claiming that the pass from Cruden to Perenara was forward.

In the scheme of things, it didn’t really matter because the All Blacks would have won anyway – even if they had not scored a last-minute try through substitute hooker Nathan Harris which made the final score 39-21.

It could have, however, caused some anxiety if a try by Welsh number eight Toby Faletau, soon after Barnes’ crazy decision, had been allowed. Faletau was rightly adjudged to be ahead of a kicker when he chased down the ball and scored. The try was, thus, disallowed.

The question that should be raised is: what is Barnes still doing officiating international rugby matches? He should be sacked right away.

America’s Kurdish adventure will end in tears

AT THE end of World War I, many ethnic groups were able to get a patch of land for themselves, with the area and population therein largely dependent on the extent to which they had pleased the imperial powers that came out as victors of that war – France and Britain.

The Kurds were one group that missed the bus and ended up scattered over four countries – Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. They are a restless lot and the countries in which they lived often had to keep them quiet by one means or another.

The late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein gave them a limited measure of autonomy. But there was always the implicit understanding that if the Kurds got too ambitious, then they would be met with blanket slaughter. Dictators like Saddam – and his neighbour, the late Hafez al-Assad of Syria – do not do things by half-measures and for years the Kurds were content to remain within their allocated freedoms.

After the Gulf War of 1991, there was, for a while, protection in the form of western fighter jets that patrolled a no-fly zone; after the war, the Kurds rose up in protest against Saddam in the hope that their long dormant hope for a country would be realised. But they were tricked by the US which, after initially backing them, changed its mind when George Bush Senior realised that a weak Iraq would lead to Iran being the dominant power in the region.

And that the Americans did not like – they have not had much to do with Iran after the events of 1979. So the Kurds had to eat what Australians call a shit sandwich and stay on as part of Iraq.

Now Washington – and its so-called coalition against the extremist Islamic State – is arming the Kurds in order to get them to fight the militants. In doing so, they are setting themselves up for a lot of trouble in the future. The Americans have forgotten what happened after they armed resistance fighters against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. One of the side effects of that policy was a little event that happened on September 11, 2001.

But the Americans have not learnt. If they read their own history books, they will realise that they are incompetents of the highest order when it comes to intervening in foreign countries. Yet they keep doing it over and over again.

In 2003, George Bush Junior invaded Iraq and broke the entire system. The Americans did not merely topple the government, they ripped out the entire bureaucracy and left the country without any functioning systems at all. The results of that have been self-evident over the last 11 years.

After Saddam came to power in a coup in 1969, he realised that he had a mess on his hands, created by the British and French drawing borders at right angles to satisfy the requests of this group or that. And so he ruled with an iron fist and kept the country intact. Anyone who even indicated a mild dislike for him was shot in cold blood.

The Americans released all his controls. And in so doing, they opened the gates for every sectarian group to do what they wanted. Power was given to the Shias and hence the Sunnis took up arms. The Islamic State is just the most extreme manifestation of that resistance – another group that rose up in reaction to American screw-ups.

Internecine warfare between countries or groups in the Middle East is a routine thing. The West should keep out of these squabbles. But the Americans have oil interests in many parts of the region and hence they intervene again and again. No good has ever come of it.

The outcome will be the same this time too.

New Zealand finally gets a monkey off its back

THE Shaky Isles have finally got a monkey off their back by winning the rugby world cup title again. They won the first, held in their own country, in 1987, and have been knocked out at various stages of the tournament ever since.

Due to the series of losses, they have been accused of choking. I’m sure it won’t take long for the next diatribe to emerge – that they choke whenever they play in this tournament away from home.

The manner in which New Zealand won was strange; they were defending for a better part of the game and their flair was totally missing. But then they had raised their game to the level of a final the previous week to defeat Australia – whom they overpowered though it was not reflected on the scoreboard – and peaked a week too early. It is generally difficult for a team to lift to that level twice in a single tournament.

Hence, on the day of the final, New Zealand was somewhat listless. The first half of the game saw numerous opportunities come their way but their running game was desultory and the kicking of Piri Weepu inaccurate. As a result of his wayward kicks, they missed out on eight points in that half. The only points came through a try by loosehead prop Tony Woodcock when a gaping gap appeared at lineout time after Jerome Kaino had gone up to receive the throw; Kaino flicked the ball down to Woodcock and he charged through.

Incidentally, Woodcock scored twice in similar fashion in the last game of the Tri Nations in 2008 and Ali Williams did something similar in the first Test of the 2005 British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand.

In contrast to New Zealand’s powerful show against Australia in the semi-finals, France had a listless game against Wales in the semi-finals, one they did not deserve to win. They defended for the most part.

The French played a meandering game for the first 40 minutes of the final against the All Blacks but in the second they were transformed and were unlucky not to win the cup in the end.

The All Blacks defended grimly for much of the second 40 minutes and saw very little of French territory. Had they let the French through that chain-gang-like defensive line even once, it would have been all over. Once France scored in the second half, only a point separated the teams – and it would end that way.

But then fate decided it that way. The New Zealand public have gone through a great deal of trauma in the last few months, with an earthquake in Christchurch. Had the All Blacks lost at home, it would have been too cruel a blow to a nation that lives and breathes rugby.

France has now contested three finals and lost all. Australia has been in three finals and won two, New Zealand likewise. England has contested three finals as well, but won only one. South Africa has won both the finals it entered, the first courtesy of a dose of food poisoning which the All Blacks were served the night before the final.

The 2015 cup will be held in England.

Wales deserved to lose

There were great expectations of Wales after they made it to the World Cup rugby semi-finals and came up against France.

Today they lost a match they should have won. The scoreline was 9-8 in favour of France. And in the process they illustrated one fundamental fact of the knockout stage of the World Cup – you also need some intelligence to win these games.

For all the playmaking it did, Wales should have gone home with a final in the bag, despite playing with 14 players for 62 of the 80 minutes. France did nothing of note, they played a waiting game and made a couple of line breaks.

But they kicked straight on the night despite getting less penalties within range; all three of Morgan Parra’s kicks bisected the uprights.

Wales were down to 14 men in the 18th minute because of their captain’s stupidity. All through the tournament, we’ve heard about what a great leader Sam Warburton is; we never heard that he is short on intelligence.

As bad enough as it was to make a tip tackle on an opposition player – winger Vincent Clerc was the French player who was up-ended – Warburton compounded his offence by carelessly dropping Clerc after he lifted him off the ground. Every high-school rugby player knows that if you lift an opposing player off his feet in the tackle, then it is your responsibility to bring the man safely back to earth.

Had Warburton made even the slightest attempt to cushion the blow for Clerc, referee Alain Rolland would probably have given him a yellow card and he would have been out of the game for 10 minutes. No referee wants to spoil a game. But in the circumstances, Rolland had no option.

Six minutes before this, Wales had lost its tighthead prop Adam Jones, a man of vast experience, due to injury. Then came Warburton’s stupid mistake. It is well to bear in mind that Wales started the game with a disadvantage because of the loss of fly-half Rhys Priestland to injury; in his place, they had to play James Hook, an erratic place-kicker and not the best man to steer a team.

Hook missed two of the three penalties he took and Stephen Jones missed a conversion after scrum-half Mike Phillips had gone over in the 59th minute to score the only try of the game. In the last quarter, fullback Leigh Halfpenny just missed kicking a 50-meter penalty, the ball dipping just before it reached the crossbar.

Even with 14 men, Wales could have pinched it as France played a lacklustre game. But Wales just refused to show any patience, hurrying a couple of drop-kicks – one by Hook, one by his replacement Stephen Jones. And they kept kicking the ball away to the French. This was a game where 14 were attempting to win a game against 15 and they kept gifting possession away. Not the most intelligent tactic to use.

Had Wales shown even a tenth of the patience they showed in the last play of the game – when they went through 26 phases before they lost the ball to France – they would have been home and dry.

But they did not deserve to win. They had it in their hands and threw it away.

The loss of Adam Jones and Warburton told in the lineouts and France’s experienced No 8 Imanol Harinordoquy pinched some half-a-dozen Welsh throws.

That apart, France did nothing of note. They defended well and waited for the 80 minutes to get over. If the French play this way next week they will meet their third defeat in a final – they lost to New Zealand in 1987 and to Australia in 1999 – no matter whom they confront.