All Blacks team management are considering raising unspecified concerns about the performance of English referee Wayne Barnes in last Saturday’s rugby test against Scotland at Murrayfield.
International Rugby Board referees’ boss Paddy O’Brien has already issued Barnes with a pass mark following his control of the All Blacks’ 32-6 win over Scotland.
However, Barnes — renowned for his controversial handling of the All Blacks’ World Cup quarterfinal loss to France last October — did not impress either camp.
All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen was measured in his appraisal of Barnes’ handling of the match, but left little doubt he was unhappy with aspects of the 29-year-old’s officiating.
“If I said what I thought I’d get fined,” said Hansen, who predictably would not elaborate.
“There’s no point trying to bag someone, it’s not good for the game, for us or various referees that you’re frustrated with,” he said.
“It’s pointless me sitting here moaning about the ref — we can’t control what the ref does. We can talk to Paddy and give our views and if he sees issues, he’ll work with his refs.
“There’s proper channels and we’ll go through those proper channels.”
Hansen had a brief chat with O’Brien at Murrayfield and thought another discussion could be warranted after a video of the test was analysed.
The All Blacks arrived in the Irish capital on Monday, where the headquarters of the IRB is based, meaning O’Brien should be in close proximity.
Barnes is no stranger to controversy where the All Blacks are concerned — his control of their 18-20 loss to France in Cardiff 13 months ago was widely condemned in New Zealand. He missed a forward pass in the lead-up to the match-winning try, and neglected to penalise the French during the entire second half.
Ironically Scotland probably feel more aggrieved by Barnes’ performance. Scotland lost second five-eighth Nick De Luca to the sinbin in the fourth minute for kicking the ball from a ruck — the first time they had been penalised.
They were also critical post-match of the All Blacks’ scrummaging tactics, accusing New Zealand of deliberately collapsing the set piece with impunity when defending their line late in the first half while Anthony Boric was sinbinned.
Barnes’ adjudicating of the scrummage may also be at the core of the All Blacks’ concerns after their front row struggled with the timing of the engagement, particularly debutant loosehead prop Jamie Mackintosh.
Hansen said refining the scrum would be a priority ahead of Sunday’s (NZT) test against Ireland at Croke Park.
“There was a lot of pressure on the scrum all day from both sides, there were a lot of collapses. Some of that is due to technical stuff we’ll have to work on,” he said.
The likely reintroduction of premier loosehead Tony Woodcock and tighthead Neemia Tialata for John Afoa this weekend should smooth that process, while Brad Thorn’s bulk in the second row should also help shore up the pack.
The All Blacks’ optimum line-up is expected to be restored for the Irish test, though Thorn’s regular locking partner Ali Williams may be due for a spell.
Fullback Mils Muliaina, the All Blacks’ most experienced back, has finally joined the squad from paternity leave and will slot straight into the back three.
A new halfback is due to arrive here on Tuesday morning after Wellington’s Alby Mathewson was summoned to replace the injury-plagued Andy Ellis.
Ellis is poised to return home after sustaining rib cartilage damage while appearing as a second half substitute against the Scots.
“It’s pretty disappointing for Andy, a second rib injury this season — it’s pretty tough for him,” said assistant coach Wayne Smith.
“He’s a tough wee fella too. He popped it back in a couple of times after he made tackles but after that he just couldn’t go on.”
Ellis missed the last three Tri-Nations tests after suffering a similar injury to the left side of his rib cage against Australia in July. A knee injury late in Canterbury’s Air NZ Cup also placed him in doubt for the tour.
Mathewson was touted as a logical replacement then, and remains clearly the best available option as cover for Jimmy Cowan and Piri Weepu.
“Everyone knows he had a good Air NZ Cup. He was in the (selection) mix, we were looking at him pretty closely,” Smith said.
“He brings a different style of game — he’s probably closer to (the injured) Brendan Leonard than some of the other halfbacks. He’s a running halfback, so it’s going to be exciting for him.”