Training run ruined: Red card creates crisis

2:49 pm on 16 September 2023
Ethan de Groot of New Zealand leaves the field after a yellow card. Rugby World Cup France 2023, New Zealand All Blacks v Namibia pool match at Stadium de Toulouse, Toulouse, France on Friday 15 September 2023. Mandatory credit: Andrew Cornaga /

Ethan de Groot of New Zealand leaves the field after a yellow card, which was then upgraded to red, during a Rugby World Cup match against Namibia on 15 September 2023. Photo: Photosport / Andrew Cornaga

Analysis - All the boxes were getting ticked for the All Blacks as they cruised to a 71-3 win over hapless Namibia in Toulouse. Yes, it wasn't ever going to be more than a glorified training run, but it was nice to see the All Blacks clicking into gear, flicking some great passes and not kicking away the ample ball they provided for themselves.

Then Adriaan Booysen, Namibia's replacement flanker who usually plays for the Dallas Jackals in the US Major League Rugby, ate a chunk of Ethan de Groot's shoulder after taking the ball into contact. The prop got a yellow card, which was then upgraded to red. It's exactly the outcome that Ian Foster didn't need from this game and negates a great deal of the good stuff mentioned earlier.

With Tyrel Lomax still recovering from his freak leg gash against the Springboks at Twickenham and de Groot facing a likely suspension, Foster's now potentially losing his starting props that had paved the way for the All Blacks' successes in The Rugby Championship.

It also means the Food Bill Club, or players that aren't actually playing, is getting to be quite a formidable group. Lomax and de Groot have Sam Cane, Jordie Barrett and Shannon Frizell for company when they watch on, with at least the good news being that there is a whole fortnight for them to change that status before the next test, against Italy.

On the positive side, Cam Roigard pressed his case to be Aaron Smith's backup pretty confidently. If he's not wearing the 21 jersey next time out it will be odd, but what Foster does with Damian McKenzie from here on is an interesting one. McKenzie looked great, but then again of course he was going to against a brittle Namibian defence that didn't really know what to do whenever he got the ball. The best possible comparison to what McKenzie saw every time he looked up would be the tired legs of a top side, so perhaps he may find himself as the bench utility going forward.

Leicester Fainga'anuku looked sharp in scoring his first test try on a hard courage line from a quick lineout ball, but probably needed to do a bit more for Foster to consider elevating him to the top starting XV. That's not really his fault, though, as the Namibians were getting gashed before he even got his hands on the ball.

Spare a thought for poor Le Roux Malan, the Namibian second five suffered an injury in the first half that saw his foot pointing in a direction it really shouldn't and disturbed referee Luke Pearce so much he couldn't even look at it. However, Pearce was all eyes when de Groot forgot how to tackle and that's the one that counts.

Maybe he'll get a reprieve given that French lock Romain Taofifenua was only yellow carded for essentially doing the same thing in Friday's game against Uruguay. But before we jump into an America's Cup-like judiciary watch, it is worth asking exactly where the fault lies here. Time and time again during this campaign we've heard from the coaches about the need for accuracy and discipline, so much so that it's become a cliché, but how come they can't get the message across to the players?

Or are they just talking smack in the press conferences, because the crackdown on high shots just seems to be seeing more players sent off rather than actually reducing tackle heights. De Groot became the ninth All Black to be sent off in a test match - six of those happening in the last six years, with only Jordie Barrett's freak kick to Marika Koroibete's face being the only one not for shoulder contact to the head.

They should all know better by now. Because even in a match-up against lowly Namibia, the wider ramifications of a red card could be immense.

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