As the fallout from Thursday’s controversial Bledisloe Cup match between the Wallabies and the All Blacks continues, players, pundits, and fans alike are asking for an explanation of the rule that paved the way for New Zealand’s game-winning try.
Australia led 37-34 in the 79th minute when they were awarded a penalty through Lalakai Foketi five metres out from their goal line.
That was where things started to get messy.
The key moments
Referee Mathieu Raynal allowed 25 seconds of celebration before he told fly-half Bernard Foley, in his return to the side after a three-year absence, to play on. Foley chose to kick for touch.
After 31 seconds, Raynal whistled time off. Seven seconds later, he started again, telling Foley in the noise of the moment to play on.
The side-on camera showed Foley’s teammates gesturing towards him to hurry up and kick the ball.
Foley looked behind him, seemingly not hearing the restart, but saw the hurried calls from his teammates and shaped to kick.
But before he could, Raynal whistled again — 39 seconds after the penalty had been awarded — and signalled a penalty to New Zealand.
“What’s going on?” the broadcast commentator said as the game paused and both Foley and scrum-half Nic White demanded an explanation from Raynal.
“I said, first, you play a quick play,” Raynal can be heard telling White through his on-pitch microphone.
“Then I time off; I switch off the time.
“I say to your player, ‘I switch on the time and you play immediately.’ And he waits, he waits, he waits.
“So that’s a scrum for the All Blacks.”
The All Blacks won the ball from the ensuing scrum and fed it wide to fullback Jordie Barrett, who scored in the corner for a 39-37 win.
What are the time-wasting rules?
According to law 20, part five of the World Rugby rule book, “a penalty or free kick must be taken without delay”.
However, there is no specific time frame in which a penalty or free kick must be taken.
Therefore, it is at the total discretion of the referee.
So while Raynal was technically correct in his decision, the obscurity and rarity of such decisions being made — and particularly in the final minute of a tense game — is what has sent the rugby community into an uproar.
“I haven’t seen a decision like that at any level,” Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said afterwards.
“I think you’ve got to have a feel for the game and the situation. So if you feel a team’s wasting time, then stop the clock, then they kick it out, and then you play the game and the teams decide it.
“I spoke to Bernard [Foley] after the game. He was under the impression time was off.
“The referee had told him to play and at no stage was he told or did he believe he was going to call a scrum from that.
Most situations the clock is off and the clock stays off, so it sounds like the clock went off and then he started it again.
“The disappointing thing from our point of view is it was a fantastic game of footy and we should be celebrating the game as opposed to talking about a ref decision in the last minute.”
All Blacks say fair play
However, under-fire All Blacks head coach Ian Foster saw things differently.
“I thought it was very clear-cut,” he said.
“They were delaying the kick. [Raynal] said time off. He warned [Foley], then he said ‘time off’, and then he said ‘speed up’ then he said ‘time on’.
“Then he asked him twice to kick it. I understand there is a contentious nature about it, but it was very clear cut from the opposition.
“Part of your game management is to listen to the referee. So when the referee says ‘time on’, you have to play it. I just saw it out there. I heard very clearly what the ref said. So I think we’ve just got to be careful.”
However, Foster is in the minority. Most reactions in media and online reflects the bewilderment of World Cup winner Tim Horan, who said in the post-match broadcast what most were thinking.
“I’ve been commentating for over 20 years and I thought it was a disgraceful decision by the referee; he cracked under pressure,” he said.
“I reckon you could have another 15 referees — big referees for World Rugby — that would have taken that calmly and wouldn’t have got overhauled by the experience.
“Ninety seconds left in the game and he cracked under pressure in one of the biggest moments, one of the biggest games here in Australia.
“It was a disgraceful decision and World Rugby need to look at it. It was terrible.”
What happens now?
The Wallabies have publicly called for an explanation of the decision from World Rugby, though insiders suggest the governing body will likely stand by Raynal’s decision and cite the laws of the game.
The result means the All Blacks retain the Bledisloe Cup for another year — having not lost it since 2003 — and have kept alive their hopes of claiming the Rugby Championship as the win moves them to outright first spot on the ladder with 14 points to Australia’s 10 after five games.
The two teams will meet again in the sixth and final round at Auckland’s Eden Park on September 24.
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