Henry’s ‘final word’ on suspected match-fixing in RWC 2007
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All Blacks rugby coach Graham Henry attends a press conference with the Webb Ellis trophy after his team's Rugby World Cup final win over France at Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand
Here is what Graham Henry says in his biography, ‘Graham Henry: Final World’, about his suspicions as the All Blacks coach of the refereeing in the Rugby World Cup 2007 quarter-final between France and New Zealand.
After endless studies of the television tape of the match, he reached the following conclusion from the video:
“… would confirm that referee Wayne Barnes and his touch judges, Jonathan Kaplan from South Africa and Tony Spreadbury from England, hadn’t exactly coverted themselves in glory at the Millennium Stadium, that they missed an obvious forward pass when France scored its match-winning try – a pass so forward everyone in the stadium had witnessed it except the referee – and that Barnes had been pretty lenient on France at the breakdowns, probably costing the All Blacks the game.”
The video he watched had three different camera angles and featured statistical breakdowns of lineouts, scrums, penalties, tackle counts, territory and possession. These statistics revealed that the All Blacks had 73 per cent of the territorial advantage, won 166 rucks to 42 and made only 73 tackles compared with 331 (surely the most ever in a Test?) made by France.
From his own analysis of the match, Henry says Barnes missed 40 penalty infringements by France and that if New Zealand had got all the penalties they deserved, the final score would have been 42-3 or 42-6: “The All Blacks didn’t get a penalty for the last 60 minutes of the game and attacked over 70 per cent of that time.”
He had been so ‘stunned’ by the lopsided penalty count that favoured France (he became physically ill watching the video, in fact) that he “briefly contemplated match-fixing as the only logical explanation’ for the All Blacks upset 20-18 loss to France … I have been involved in 140 Test matches and 20 years of coaching at the provincial level or the level above it and years of coaching international rugby and I’ve never been involved in a game that was like this game.”
In the end, he says he asked the NZRU and the IRB “if there was any, any laws or system that they use to look at bizarre games and look at the possibility of sports betting. But apparently they don’t which surprised me.” The IRB refused to have an investigation which Henry says he found to be ‘incomprehensible’.
Asked on television if the officials were cheating or were incompetent, Henry replied: “I guess that’s why you have a system of analysing those things. If you had a system of analysing, maybe you would come to a result and I could answer that question.”
In summary then: the gist of the Henry complaint is that the refereeing decisions did not equate with the way the game was played: that they were so out of line that the possibility of match-fixing was an allegation that needed to be thought about, at least: and that the reasons why the All Blacks were ‘sawn off’ by the refereeing needed to be reviewed to establish an explanation why France suddenly became ‘the most disciplined team in the history of international rugby.’
In my view, the case made out by Henry is a strong one. It should not have been dismissed by the IRB as an inconvenient complaint.
Stephen Jones, a hater of New Zealand (and Australian) rugby, its successes and its methods, was in a typically Basil Fawlty mode in his twittered response: the comments were a “puke-making assault on Wayne Barnes by a bitter Graham Henry.”
Murray Deaker is the talkback host in Auckland of a popular radio and television sports programs. “To bring it out, now,” he says, “after everything that rugby has done for him, I find amazing.”
Wynne Gray is the chief rugby writer for NZ’s biggest newspaper, The New Zealand Herald. For him, the Henry complaint is all about selling his biography: “Rather than dredge up five-year-old bile to help sell this modest read, Henry would have served rugby and himself better if he had used that time to work to simplify the laws and the game’s officiating.”
Paris-based Ian Borthwick is the foremost English-speaking expert on French rugby. He conceded that the match statistics are bizarre but insisted that Henry’s ‘negative feelings’ should have been revealed a long time ago.
Bob Francis was a New Zealand who was on the IRB panel that selected Barnes for the 2007 RWC quarter-final. He told the NZ Radio Sports network that Henry’s claims are “totally unacceptable and I refute them totally.” Barnes, he said, had refereed the All Blacks in their tournament match against Italy and the IRB had received ‘very good feedback’ about his performances from the All Blacks coaches. Barnes is a “man of integrity… he’s a lawyer… and was a form referee and that’s what convinced us to appoint him to the quarter final.”
Francis said in the interview that an independent refereeing panel reviewed the game in Paris the next day and found that there were ‘some issues’ including the “clearly missed forward pass’ and ‘offsides late in the game that should have been penalised.”
I find all of this does not deal properly with the valid points that Henry has made.
I was at Marseilles for the All Blacks-Italy match. One of my clear impressions, which I wrote about at the time, was that the penalty count seemed to run against the All Blacks, despite the fact that they scored over 70 points against their opponents. Wayne Barnes, of course, was the referee.
I also wrote in several articles about the strange atmosphere throughout the tournament which involved (or so it seemed to me) a fierce desire by the northern hemisphere nations to get one of their teams up to win a second Rugby World Cup after England’s triumph in the 2003 RWC.
This desire seemed (to me, at least) to be expressed in toleration of aspects of the tournament that impacted especially on the All Blacks that should not have been tolerated.
As Graham Henry points out, the All Blacks came into the tournament as the red-hot favourites after winning 20 of their last 21 Tests.
It seemed to me that some curious things happened around the All Blacks in RWC 2007.
They were required to play a pool match in Scotland, although they were based in the south of France in Marseilles.
Scotland rubbed in the home advantage by lying to the IRB about their jerseys. They showed the IRB a tournament jersey before the tournament which had lots of black in it. The All Blacks found to their amazement that Scotland was actually playing in a greyish/purplish jersey that was very similar to the gray/black New Zealand away kit.
There was so much confusion on the field (and for the television viewing audience) that the All Blacks were asked by the IRB officials to come out in the second half of the match in their All Blacks jerseys. They couldn’t do this because they did not bring any back-up kit from Marseilles.
The IRB had all the evidence they needed to prosecute Scotland for lying to them (at least one official told me that the matter had been raised) but, in the end, nothing was done. At the very least, Scotland should have had a couple of tournament points deducted from their tally for this gamesmanship which bordered on cheating.
The seeding of the All Blacks virtually ensured, too, that they would play their quarter-final at Cardiff. This made no sense in a RWC tournament that was supposed to be played throughout France.
Before the tournament, too, France announced that they were changing the colour of their jerseys from the historical electric blue (to which they have recently returned, in fact) to a dark blue which was so dark it would certainly clash with the All Blacks colours. Throughout the tournament, the management of the French side refused to allow journalists to refer to ‘the All Blacks’ at their press conferences.
You had the slightly creepy feeling, then, throughout the tournament that there was some sort of push from somewhere to somehow put the All Blacks off their game in the finals.
I watched the Wallabies go down to England in their quarter-final at Marseilles. I got the train from the stadium back into town to my hotel room in the Citadines to watch the France – NZ quarter-final.
Even though the All Blacks started brilliantly (as they had throughout the tournament), they were never able to convert their dominance into a swag of points. The lack of penalty shots at goal had something to do with this.
Several aspects of play, as I noted later in my match report, were perplexing.
The All Blacks did a reverse kick-off and forced a ruck. Referee Wayne Barnes immediately penalised Richie McCaw in the first play of the match.
France was getting penalties but not the All Blacks, even though they were the ones making all the play.
Ali Williams ‘scored’ a try which, if allowed, would have opened up the match for the All Blacks. Somehow the TMO ruled against the try.
The forward pass that led to France’s winning try was thrown only metres away from Barnes and Kaplan. How could they miss it when, as Henry says, everyone in the stadium must have seen it?
Luke McAlister was given a yellow card towards the end of the match for an offence that hardly rated a penalty.
Of course, the All Black tactics of bashing away on the French goal-line, instead of setting up an easy field goal, did not make sense. But the justification for the tactics may have been that the All Blacks expected that Barnes would give them at least one penalty while they tried to score tries.
Grant Fox, in his commentary, and he is unusually fair, could not help blurting out about the many French infringements.
None of this is evidence of a conspiracy, of course. I don’t believe for a moment that Barnes, Kaplan or Spreadbury were anything other than incompetent on the day.
But Henry’s main point must be taken on board by the IRB. There needs to be immmediate formalised inquiries into bizarre results and happenings throughout a RWC tournament. And penalties should be inflicted. This is a matter of urgency.
There has been a lot going on below the surface at most of the RWC tournaments that needs to be dragged out of the mud and cleaned up.
In RWC 1995, the bookmakers made a fortune when the favourites NZ lost to South Africa. In my book ‘Winters of Revenge’ (Viking Penguin 1997) I document very fully just how the bookmakers’ sting against the All Blacks was worked out.
In RWC 1999, Paddy O’Brien revealed in his book ‘Whistle While You Work’ that a fellow assistant referee for the final between France and Australia, the English referee Ed Morison, had hugged the French coach John-Claude Skrela in the dressing room before the game and told him : ‘You’ve got to do it for the northern hemisphere.’ (‘Watching The Rugby World Cup’ Awa Press 2011)
Australia were the leading southern hemisphere team in RWC 1999. Wales refused to close the roof of the Millennium Stadium, despite the fact that it was raining for their quarter-final match with the Wallabies. Also, the President of the IRB, the late Vernon Pugh, during this match tried to get the Wallabies booted out of the tournament on a trumped up charge, a subterfuge that was defeated by an alert John O’Neill (this deplorable incident is described in ‘Watching The Rugby World Cup’ Awa Press, 2011.
In RWC 2003, Greg Growden revealed that the IRB were considering investigating a referee for suspicious refereeing decisions. The investigation was never carried out.
In RWC 2011, the chairman of the Welsh Rugby Union was also the chairman of the tournament’s panel that selected referees for each match, an unacceptable conflict of interest in the view of the Samoan Rugby Union.
England cheated repeatedly in the pool rounds of RWC 2011 by having its officials smuggle a ball to Jonny Wilkinson to kick at goal with that he’d practised with, instead of the actual match ball. A couple of officials were grounded. But England, like Scotland, did not have tournament points deducted for this cheating.
None of these matters have been properly investigated by the IRB. The gamesmanship or cheating has invariably been done by northern hemisphere unions. The lack of action by the IRB leadership (which is dominated by northern hemisphere officials) is alarming.
If Henry’s book, with its sensational claims, acts as a catalyst for the IRB to examine what has happened in the past and put in place systems that promote fairness at all levels of the game, then he has done a great service to the game he has honoured with his coaching career.
It’s time for the IRB to pick up the ball and run on the issues he has raised.
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Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.