Men in green have right to feel robbed – Chris Rattue on Sport in New Zealand Herald

Mystery surrounding rulings at major moments is a weakness of rugby.

Never mind the quality, feel the pulse. It was racing as Ireland got
so close to a historic victory over the All Blacks that it can be
claimed the better team, the rank underdogs, may have lost on Saturday
night.

A cold war turned into a hot one after the disappointing first test
cakewalk in Auckland. The standards were as messy as the weather in
the second encounter in Christchurch, but who cares when the contest
is this close, this intense. Tests like these are magic without the
tricks.

Modern rugby lives in academies but is just as much fun when played
the old-school way. Get a load of huffing and puffing behemoths going
at one another for 80 minutes with a nasty edge to proceedings, and
skill sets get put in their place.

A test match that was supposed to be as nailbiting as a North Korean
election turned into something more akin to a dodgy Miami recount –
the Irish have every right to raise merry hell over the scrum penalty
against them when on attack and pushing for victory.

Referees claim to rely on forensics in these cases but a lot of us
prefer the circumstantial evidence, that an All Black scrum adrift on
one side – where replacements Ben Franks, Ali Williams and Sam Cane
were stationed on this occasion – was getting a right going over from
the men in green.

Frontrower Cian Healy and his mates were powering ahead, when they ran
into a flapping rulebook.

Referee Nigel Owens ruled that Ireland had pulled back on one side, a
grossly unfair judgment when placed on the scales of justice rather
than under a faulty microscope.

How could Owens be that sure at such an important moment? Any teams
under these circumstances have a right to feel robbed.

This is a rugby weakness, the inexactness and mystery surrounding
rulings at major moments.

For instance, Jonathan Sexton’s failed long-range penalty attempt,
which would have brought Ireland a lead in the 72nd minute, was taken
well in advance of where Piri Weepu had collected Rob Kearney’s up and
under just inside the Irish half. An impossible goal attempt became
one worth trying.

The rejuvenated green machine did prove one thing – how awful they
were in the first test. Why an international side has to sink so low
before it can rise to a decent level is the question.

The conditions played a big part – the ones existing in the Irish
players’ heads, that is. They didn’t look up for the Eden Park game.

With a giant upset and the subsequent relief still thick in the air,
it was almost forgotten the All Blacks had just won the series. This
didn’t feel like a triumph, although Steve Hansen has managed to blood
four new players and emerge relatively unscathed.

Having written off the Irish before the second test, any inclination
to do the same before the final encounter has disappeared. Which
performance can we trust – the All Blacks of the first test or the
Irish of the second? That is largely what the Hamilton game is all
about.