Wallabies robbed v All Blacks, analysis, opinion, Mathieu Raynal time-wasting call, Bernard Foley

The most dispiriting thing about Mathieu Raynal’s refereeing decision at the death in Melbourne on Thursday night was that it was needless.

There was no foul play, no-one hurt — things World Rugby quite rightly are cracking down on.

As some sports turn a blind eye on the health and safety and long-term well-being of its players, World Rugby should be applauded for doing everything it can to eradicate dangerous play.

Yet, the French referee’s perplexing decision, regardless of which way under-pressure All Blacks coach Ian Foster wants to spin it, was ridiculous because it continued the head-scratching direction the game is heading in regarding its overall officiating.

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Devastated Wallabies coach Dave Rennie hit the nail on the head when he said the decision “lacked a bit of feel for such an important moment in the game”. It did.

A grand total of 39 seconds had elapsed when Raynal stopped Bernard Foley — playing his 72nd Test and first since 2019 — dead in his tracks as he stepped forward to kick a penalty into touch and awarded a free kick to the All Blacks in the 80th minute.

Who’d have thought rugby suddenly became so interested in the lost seconds?

After all, an average match of Test rugby has just 34 minutes of on-field time.

Even in the wonderful, engrossing and dramatic spectacle, 39 seconds elapsed in the 45th minute before Foley kicked for touch following a high tackle.

A whopping 85 seconds elapsed as Foley’s opposite Richie Mo’unga lined up for a penalty in the 71st minute.  

Those examples don’t take into consideration the numerous scrum resets, nor the ridiculous water breaks implemented in each half to try to reduce wider staff members coming onto the field.

It made the decision to penalise Foley, even if he told the 33-year-old to “play now” and “time on”, all the more staggering.

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The irony of the situation being Rugby Australia, led by chairman Hamish McLennan, have been attempting to sway World Rugby to speed the game up.

Now they will wait and see whether World Rugby’s officials ever make a decision quite as remarkable as the one that helped deny the Wallabies the chance of sending the Bledisloe Cup into a series decider.

The Wallabies should take plenty from the heartbreaking 39-37 defeat.

Once again their character was on display, just as it was in Perth in July and again in Mendoza last month, as the Wallabies rallied despite being reduced to 13 men before half-time.

They lost another, Jake Gordon, to the sin bin in the 51st minute for “collapsing a maul” before overturning a 31-13 deficit to hit the lead in the 77th minute with Nic White’s long-range penalty.

Foley was one of the Wallabies’ best.

The 33-year-old, just as Quade Cooper did one year ago, produced a marvellous match on his return from a three-year year absence from the international game.

He kicked 14 points from the tee and set up two tries to Andrew Kellaway, including his marvellous offload in the 61st minute to kick-start the Wallabies’ comeback.

While his performance was far from perfect, where he fell off a couple of tackles and dropped a simple pass early in the first half, his pace, playmaking ability, experience and calm head shone.

It will leave Rennie with a selection dilemma.

Referee Mathieu Raynal speaks to Nic White and Bernard Foley.
Referee Mathieu Raynal speaks to Nic White and Bernard Foley.Source: Getty Images

At his team announcement on Tuesday Rennie has said his preference was to have stuck with Noah Lolesio, but the concussion he experienced in their 24-8 loss to the Springboks ruled him out.

But on the evidence of Thursday’s showing, Foley must be selected again in the No.10 jersey – he is now a strong candidate to go to next year’s World Cup.

That should not mean Lolesio is out of calculation, with a place on the bench a consideration.

Foley wasn’t the only player to shine, with Kellaway looking at home in his return to the No.15 jersey after being reintroduced into the side from the bench.

The former Waratahs prodigy turned Melbourne Rebel was excellent in his decision-making, is a brilliant support runner, safe in the back field and knows how to find the try-line despite being denied a five-pointer in the first-half from some brilliant Rieko Ioane defence.

Pete Samu was very good at openside flanker, while Rob Valetini stepped up once again before Fraser McReight injected himself well off the bench.

Given the players on the sidelines – Michael Hooper, Angus Bell, Taniela Tupou, Rory Arnold, Samu Kerevi, Hunter Paisami and Cooper – it shows that the Wallabies have an abundance of depth.

Despite their sleepy start, Thursday night’s defeat will be about channeling the performance and making it the standard because there is more than enough in the group of players in Australia to become next year’s World Cup bolters.

But before that statement can have any form of legitimacy, consistency must be discovered. 

For now, the Wallabies must rally from their heartache and use their Bledisloe disappointment to snap their hoodoo at Eden Park.

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