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'Part of being a rugby player': All Blacks expecting more breakdown interpretations

By Tom Vinicombe
Ardie Savea, Nika Amashukeli and Shannon Frizell. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

While referees have always had a greater impact on a game of rugby compared to other sports, the ever-changing breakdown interpretations have further increased the variable differences between referees in the modern game – particularly in the past few years.


The recent two matches between New Zealand and Argentina at times almost appeared to be officiated under two different sets of laws, with Georgian Nika Amashukeli and Australian Nic Berry hugely differing in their views of what was and wasn’t legal at the breakdown contest.

While the All Blacks found themselves struggling under Amashukeli’s interpretations and failed to adapt to his officiating, eventually falling to a disappointing 25-18 defeat, they had a much easier time of things in the rematch in Hamilton, triumphing 53-3 under Berry’s watch.

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With back-to-back matches against the Wallabies on the horizon, the All Blacks won’t want to find themselves in a similar situation to Christchurch, where regular penalties stymied any attempts at building momentum against their Argentinian opposition.

Speaking to media this week, New Zealand utility forward Scott Barrett acknowledged that while the team have struggled at times in 2022 based on who has been in charge of the whistle, that’s just par for the course in the modern game.

“I think it’s probably not just this year, it’s rugby in general,” he said. “Week to week you’re going to have a different referee and they’ll probably have a slight different view on the breakdown and how they’ll want to ref the game. It’s part of being a rugby player.

“Early on in the game, you have to get an indication on how the game’s going to be reffed at the breakdown and the team that adapts the quickest to that and gets on with it often comes out on top.”


Some of the issues in the Test arena may well come down to the fact that the New Zealanders spent the formative part of the season almost exclusively being officiated by Australasian referees throughout Super Rugby Pacific, whereas a sizeable foreign contingent has naturally been called upon for international matches – including a number of Northern Hemisphere exponents.

“We play in Super Rugby down here so the refs are well connected and then when you go to international you have to adapt with different refs each week,” Barrett said.

“Nothing too much changes. If there’s anything that [referees] are currently hot on, our coaches might teach us some habits at the breakdown on what to look for and our decision-making to help us.”



France’s Mathieu Raynal will take charge of the opening Bledisloe Cup match of the season next Thursday while Andrew Brace of Ireland will have the whistle for the following weekend’s clash at Eden Park.

Whether Barrett himself will be more or less affected by the officiating could come down to which jersey he dons in Melbourne next week. With Shannon Frizell unavailable after three starts on the trot in the blindside flanker role, Barrett could be asked to take on those responsibilities instead of running out in the second row.

Either way, Barrett won’t be fussed: “If the coaches name me there or say I can cover there then yeah, I’ll grab that opportunity with two hands.”

Thursday’s match will kick off at 7:45pm AEST from Marvel Stadium in Melbourne’s Docklands.


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