'Encourages cheap shots': All Blacks coach questions World Rugby's stance around 'niggly' play

Tri Nations
by Christy Doran

With his coaching future on the line this weekend in Newcastle against Los Pumas, All Blacks coach Ian Foster has questioned World Rugby’s response to niggly play.

Throughout the Tri Nations the feisty Latino spirit has been on display, with a number of their players involved in some intense off the ball niggle.

It was a feature of their stunning victory over the All Blacks a fortnight ago when captain Pablo Matera told Australian referee Angus Gardner he was playing for his “country” and wouldn’t take a backwards step if he or anyone of his players were pushed.

Shortly after perennial All Blacks pest Dane Coles had a penalty reversed for pushing an opponent in the face.

The infringement allowed Nicolas Sanchez a shot at goals.

Last week that “niggly” theme continued with Sanchez at the heart of it, while Matera got away with pulling the hair of Brandon Paenga-Amosa during some push and shove following the hooker’s late hit in defence.

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With discipline likely to be another key factor during Saturday’s tournament defining match, Foster has taken to playing referee during training sessions to test his players’ composure.

“Clearly the off the ball stuff has almost been a feature of this whole tournament and we’ve had to adjust,” Foster told reporters during his team announcement on Thursday.

“We’ve taken some lessons in there, we’ve had a few apologies from the refs for some decisions.

“But the reality is we’ve got to learn to control ourselves and be in charge of our discipline. It’s been an area that we’ve used a variety of techniques, one of which is me refereeing. We need to show a lot more composure and hopefully that shines through on Saturday.”

Asked what he wanted to see from his players if they were provoked, Foster said the key was being “smart” but questioned the route World Rugby was heading down.

“There’s an emotive reaction that everyone wants, but World Rugby has come out apparently in the last week and said that if the retaliation is at a level above what the initial prodding was then the retaliator is going to get penalised,” he said.

“For them, that’s reasonably clear.

“The problem with that strategy is that it just keeps encouraging people for little cheap shots and trying to provoke you.

“Look, it’s a niggly part of the game, it seems to be a feature of this series, particularly in the last two to three weeks, but we can’t go in with an excuse of being surprised because it’s going to happen and if it does we’ve got to make sure our response is within the laws.”

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Despite the retaliator being punished under World Rugby’s new law, Foster said that his side couldn’t afford to be distracted like they were during their last Test.

“We’ve just got to be precise and physical and do what our job is,” he said.

“I think we saw a team that got distracted by it last time and it was wearing a black jersey, and we’ve got to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”