28 Aug 2016

No charge over eye gouging

1:06 pm on 28 August 2016

All Blacks prop Owen Franks has escaped suspension over an alleged eye gouging incident in their 29-9 win over the Wallabies in Wellington.

Referee Romain Poite speaks to captains Kieran Read (L) and Stephen Moore, Wellington. 27th August 2016. © Copyright Photo: Grant Down / www.photosport.nz

Referee Romain Poite speaks to captains Kieran Read (L) and Stephen Moore Photo: Photosport

Footage from the game showed Franks apparently grappling at Australian lock Kane Douglas's face during a maul early in the niggly game.

Afterwards, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika called for Franks to be cited.

"We saw it at the time," Cheika told reporters. "It was pretty open, it would be pretty hard for the match review guy to miss."

But governing body SANZAAR aren't going to cite Franks over the incident.

After viewing the footage, New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said he agreed with the citing commissioner's decision.

"I agree with the independent person who said there's nothing to answer for," Hansen said.

"You got to be really, really careful until you see all the views... social media, I think, were the people who alerted everyone to it so they certainly don't get all the views."

"There's a process and that process has been followed and whoever was running it - I don't know who the citing commissioner was but he's obviously seen all the angles and believes there's nothing to answer for."

Hansen believed the incident was "an unfortunate by-product... of the mauling rules that we have."

Niggly game in Wellington

The incident was one of numerous occasions when both teams pushed the boundaries of the law, with French referee Romain Poite struggling at times to control tempers from boiling over.

Cheika said he was left "bitterly disappointed" by Poite's control of the game.

The coach blasted Poite for "absolutely ignoring" approaches from Australian captain Stephen Moore to seek clarification on decisions, and said the referee failed to stop the game when David Pocock was down and needed a concussion test.

"There were times there was a break in play when the national captain of Australia was asking the referee 'when might be the opportunity for me to talk to you' and he absolutely ignored him," Cheika said.

"There has to be an opportunity when he can speak to the referee. The referee might not like the captain personally but he has to afford him that opportunity if he is doing it for his opponents."

"I don't know if it's subconscious or not, but it's there and it has to be dealt with."

Owen Franks in action during the All Blacks win over the Wallabies 27 August.

Owen Franks in action during the match. Photo: Photosport

The Wallabies have also filed an official complaint to World Rugby's integrity unit over a meeting between All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and referee Romain Poite, held on the eve of the second Test without Australian knowledge or invitation.

Sixth straight loss for Wallabies

Cheika's side have now lost six successive games, which includes a 3-0 home series loss to England, and with a raft of injuries are struggling as their squad depth is stretched to the limit.

The 49-year-old, who had problems with Poite's interpretations of the scrum in the series against England, said he felt the Frenchman, and fellow referee Nigel Owens, were proving difficult to deal with.

"I was bitterly disappointed," Cheika said when asked about the referee's performance after his side conceded 15 penalties to the All Blacks' 12.

"I am on the record with the referees' boss Alain Rolland about the treatment to our captain and our players by Romain Poite and Nigel Owens over the last year.

The Wallabies had been hammered 42-8 last week in Sydney as the All Blacks moved the ball at high pace with near flawless execution and the Australian side had been pilloried by their media and fans for that "Bledi-awful" loss.

On Saturday, Cheika's side were more confrontational and got into the All Blacks' collective faces to ensure they did not suffer humiliation for a second successive week.

The visitors were physical, with rookie lock Adam Coleman at the centre of many of the scuffles, including several confrontations with Brodie Retallick and hooker Dane Coles.

"Perhaps we let it get to us a little bit in the first half. There was quite a bit of niggle out there," All Blacks captain Kieran Read said.

"I suppose you expect that in a high pressure game."

While the scoreline was not as emphatic as last week, it was more than enough to send the Wallabies to a sixth successive loss.

Kieran Read hoists the Bledisloe Cup, Westpac Stadium, Wellington. 27th August 2016. © Copyright Photo: Grant Down / www.photosport.nz

Kieran Read hoists the Bledisloe Cup Photo: Photosport

The All Blacks have held the Bledisloe Cup, the symbol of trans-Tasman supremacy, since 2003 and only had to draw in Wellington to ensure it stayed locked in New Zealand Rugby's trophy cabinet for another season.

The Wallabies, however, managed to slow the pace of the All Blacks' game with negative tactics.

The ploy worked to an extent, the All Blacks leading only 15-9 at half-time courtesy of two tries by Israel Dagg and a conversion and penalty from Beauden Barrett. Bernard Foley and Reece Hodge kicked penalties for the visitors, Foley kicking two of the three.

Coleman did earn the ire of Poite when he received a yellow card for a late charge, though the All Blacks did not take advantage of the extra man.

Winger Julian Savea gave the hosts breathing space just after Coleman returned early in the second half when Barrett's blistering pace exploited space in the Wallabies defence before Sam Cane grabbed New Zealand's fourth try.

"They (Australia) have copped a fair bit of criticism back home," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. "So they were going to come and bring whatever they had to bring and they did that."

Cheika also felt Poite had been harsh to sin bin rookie lock Adam Coleman for a dangerous charge on Ben Smith, while a forearm from Dane Coles to Scott Fardy's head only received a penalty.

"Maybe one person's head is more valued than another person's head," Cheika said. "Maybe that's the way things are rolling at the moment."

Moore, who was told several times by Poite to calm his players down after they engaged in niggly, off-the-ball tactics, would not be drawn on what was happening on the field.

"I think Cheik has pretty much said it all," Moore said. "I think it's probably better if I leave what Cheik has said there."

-Reuters

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