French referee Mathieu Raynal made the right decision when he asked the All Blacks to feed a scrum after he had first awarded a penalty to Australia and then waited, seemingly forever, for the fly-half Bernard Foley to take the kick to touch.
There was little time left to play and after the scrum feed went the All Blacks way, they scored a try through Jordie Barrett to win the game 39-37.
Doubtless the Australians would have felt gutted, doubtless this kind of decision has been rarely, if ever, seen before, doubtless it decided the game the All Blacks way, when it looked very much like an Australian victory was the only outcome.
But it was the right decision, taken at a time when its impact would be really felt.
Time-wasting has become an art-form in rugby to the extent that though the game is supposed to run for 80 minutes, one rarely sees the ball in play for even half that time. It is high time that some referee made a statement about it and Raynal has done so in the most emphatic way possible.
I watched the game a second time to see the extent of time-wasting and tactics that could have annoyed Raynal and led to his last-minute decision. There were more than a few such instances.
Here’s the whole footage of Mathieu Raynal penalising the time wasting. Listen to the ref, he gives him loads of warning to play and he doesn’t so the right call for me #AUSvNZL pic.twitter.com/EZZmtrUML7
— Andy Goode (@AndyGoode10) September 15, 2022
Rugby players have one cardinal rule while in a game: play to the whistle. On two occasions after the whistle was blown when Australia infringed, the player involved threw the ball away – not violently, not very far, but still enough to cause the opposition some delay in getting play going again. One of the players guilty of this was Jake Gordon, the other was Bernard Foley.
On another occasion, shortly after half-time, Raynal asked for “number nine” to come to him, in order to issue a yellow card for collapsing a maul. Nine is Gordon; he took his own sweet time to come up to the referee and when he was told he was getting a yellow card, asked: “You sure about that?” Not the best way to address a referee.
On another occasion New Zealand prop Tyrell Lomax tackled hooker Folau Fainga’a and almost upended him; luckily, he allowed Fainga’a to come down on his back and did not flip him fully. For this, Raynal awarded a penalty.
Foley was nearby when the referee awarded the penalty and laughed in the referee’s face. Like many others, he was expecting Lomax to get a yellow card. But laughing in the match official’s face… well, that isn’t exactly calculated to win friends and influence people.
And then was the second-half try which was scored by Andrew Kellaway off a forward pass from Foley. After the touchdown, Raynal was seeking an opinion from the television match official as to whether the pass was forward or not. Foley quickly converted the try without waiting for the TMO to say anything.
Apart from all this, there were numerous delays during lineouts and scrums. Periodically, Australian players resorted to developing “injuries” which seemed to mysteriously disappear after a few minutes.
These tactics are not only indulged in by Australia; South Africa is well-known for doing the same so that its players, who tend to get quite tired as they are mostly big men, can get a few minutes of rest.
In fact, during many games in South Africa, there are as many as four water breaks during a game – apart from the main break between halves.
Most referees are afraid to push the players to stop indulging in these time-wasting tactics. One of the few cases where I witnessed a referee get tough about this was when Georgia’s Nika Amashukeli ordered Argentina to join a lineout immediately, instead of consulting each other before the set-piece. This was during the first game in the Rugby Championship between New Zealand and Argentina on 27 August.
Amashukeli, it must be added, is a new entrant to top-level refereeing.
One would hope that Raynal’s crackdown will be followed by other referees and the law will be laid down to players who are clearly trying to use up as much time as possible.
In Australia, rugby union is the fourth football code – well behind AFL, NRL and soccer in a country of just 24 million people. Union is short of supporters as things stand; all the time-wasting will only increase the number who can’t be bothered watching the players’ antics.
In the AFL, time is counted only when the ball is in play. There are four quarters of 20 minutes each, but given that only playing time is counted, the match runs for nearly two hours in all.
There were complaints about playing time in the NRL a year or two back, but the administrators took steps to fix the time wasting.
For anything to happen in rugby, there will probably need to be a review. And then another, followed by an inquiry. And in the end, the status quo will be maintained.