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'Who butchered that?' - Ian Foster panned over All Blacks blunder

By Ian Cameron
All Blacks coach Ian Foster (L) with Ardie Savea of the All Blacks (C) and Beauden Barrett of the All Blacks (R) during the first Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Australian Wallabies at Eden Park on August 07, 2021 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

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All Blacks head coach Ian Foster was panned by many over a critical personnel blunder, which lead to the best player in the first Test spending most of the second on the sidelines, helplessly watching on as Ireland claimed their first victory over the men in black on NZ soil.

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When All Blacks lost Angus Ta’avao to a 30th-minute red card and with Ofa Tuungafasi already in the sin bin, Foster’s side found themselves defending their line with Irish camped in their 22.

Ireland were awarded a penalty within 10 of the All Blacks’ try line, a situation which would 99 per cent of the time would have seen Ireland kick to touch in order to maul off the lineout.

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However, realising the All Blacks who were down to 13-men and would be obliged to commit eight players to a scrum, a quick-thinking Johnny Sexton called for the setpiece from match day referee Jaco Peyper.

The All Blacks then critically called for Ardie Savea to be subbed off to allow Aidan Ross take the field for the scrum. They were then forced to make up the eight with backs – centre Quinn Tupaea and first-five Beauden Barrett both drafted into the back row in a scrum that was uncontested.

It was at this scrum that things got a little confused.

What Peyper appeared to miss was that the All Blacks had forced uncontested scrum through foul play, and should have been obliged to remove another nominated player, a fate that befell Italy in this year’s Guinness Six Nations game, also against Ireland.

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The Law reads: “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 [Savea] to leave the playing area to enable an available front-row player to come on. The nominated player may act as a replacement.”

In this case it would have meant New Zealand should have gone down to 12 men. They got away with it, so to speak, and went on to play with 13 and then 14-men when Tuungafasi returned to the field.

Ireland didn’t score off the scrum but it forced New Zealand into removing a player, which crucially ended up being Savea. It was a major blunder, as it ultimately lead to Savea not returning later in the contest.

There was some confusion when Tuungafasi did return from the bin, with Savea looking to return with him, until it was pointed out that they had 15 players on the pitch.

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The All Blacks made a second, potentially more crucial mistake though, as they didn’t realise that they could bring Savea back on as a replacement. Under the Law 3.20, Savea would have been able to replace one of his teammates later in the game.

A small number of people did pick up that the All Blacks should have been down to 12 and not 13-men and that Savea could have returned as a replacement in the back row had Foster called for it.

Foster has since said he was advised that Savea could return by the officials.

Richard Gordon wrote: “For those confused about what happened in the #NZvIRE game, under law: 1) Savea can return as a replacement. 2) Papalii cannot return. 3) The ABs should have dropped another player and gone to 12 when uncontested scrums.”

The loss of Savea was certainly picked up on social media, where the call was pilloried – Foster the scapegoat in chief.

Former All Blacks flyhalf Lima Sopoaga wrote: “Damn you really wanna play without Ardie Savea? Who butchered that?”

Dylan Jack wrote: “Ian Foster butchered the Ardie Savea call. No matter what, Savea should be the last player you bring off.”

South African rugby scribe Mark Keohane posted: “Leaving Sam Cane and sacrificing Ardi Savea summed up everything you need to know about Foster’s thinking.”

In the end it didn’t matter the mess up by officials didn’t stop Ireland winning the game, not least as they already had a one man advantage. It does however question how on the ball the coaching ticket were when they decided to take arguably their most influential forward off.

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