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Controversy in historic match: 'They told us that we had to live with the decision'

By Tom Vinicombe
Sam Cane and Jaco Peyper. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

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Ireland may have scored a historic victory over New Zealand in Dunedin but it was not a match without controversy.

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Four players were sent from the field throughout the match. NZ’s Leicester Fainga’anuku and Ofa Tuungafasi, and Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony were all handed yellow cards by referee Jaco Peyper while Angus Ta’vao – who had entered the fray to cover Tuunfagasi’s absence at scrum time – was shown a red after just three minutes of action for a dangerous tackle on Ireland centre Garry Ringrose.

It was what happened at the scrum following Ta’avao’s ejection that has attracted significant controversy post-match, however.

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Although Ta’avao had only come onto the field due to Tuungafasi’s absence, the All Blacks had to take an additional player off the field to ensure they were still playing with a man down. Blindside flanker Dalton Papalii was the unlucky man in this case.

At the first scrum following Ta’avao’s dismissal, the All Blacks were required to bring an additional prop onto the field as, under Law 3.18, a team must operate with three front-rowers at scrum time, if possible.

As such, test debutant Aidan Ross entered the game but as he wasn’t capable off playing at tighthead prop, uncontested scrums were required.

Under Law 3.17, if ‘golden oldies’ scrums are forced due to players being sent from the field, the team that’s caused the issue is effectively required to send an additional player from the field as punishment. When Ross joined the game, Ardie Savea left the park as a direct swap – but that still left the All Blacks with 13 men when they should have been operating with 12.

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With uncontested scrums in play, both sides are also required to put eight men into the contest – which would have seen the All Blacks defending with just four players in the backline.

The scrum that forced all the changes was an Irish put-in inside the All Blacks’ 22 and while NZ were able to shut the attack down, it’s questionable whether they would have been able to do the same with one less defender on the pitch.

While New Zealand got the run of the green on that occasion, the opposite was true when Ofa Tuungafasi’s time in the sin bin came to an end and the prop returned to the field.

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Under the laws of the game, Papalii – the man who initially temporarily departed the game for Ta’avao, should not have been allowed back on the pitch.

Law 3.30 stipulates that “if a temporary replacement is sent off, the originally replaced player is not permitted to return to the playing area” – with front-rowers being the exception. Papalii was the ‘originally replaced player’.

The officials, however, ruled that it was Savea who was not allowed to return – despite law 3.20 ruling that “if a front-row player is sent off, and the team cannot continue with contested scrums with players already on the field, then the team nominates another player to leave the playing area to enable an available front-row player to come on. The nominated player may act as a replacement.”

All Blacks coach Ian Foster indicated after the match that while they had challenged the officials’ ruling, the were unrelenting.

“My understanding was the opposite of the officials’ understanding,” Foster said.

“They told us that we had to live with the decision.”

Savea, one of the All Blacks’ most experienced players – and one of the top performers throughout 2021 – would have undoubtedly preferred to remain on the field and the selectors would have certainly opted to keep the 28-year-old half-centurion in the game instead of his younger counterpart.

At the end of the day, however, the two sides were both positively and negatively impacted by the officiating on Saturday night, and it was Ireland who held strong to claim their first-ever victory in New Zealand.

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