Australia coach Dave Rennie said he had never seen a call like the one French referee Mathieu Raynal made that cost his side victory over New Zealand, but the All Blacks’ Ian Foster insisted the decision was “clear cut”.
The Wallabies were on the verge of an incredible come-from-behind win, leading 37-34 in the final minute in Melbourne on Thursday, when Bernard Foley was penalised.
Raynal reversed a penalty awarded to the Australians in the dying seconds for time-wasting as Foley — in his first game for three years — delayed his kick, believing the clock was off.
But it was a monumental error, with the All Blacks awarded a scrum five metres out with 60 seconds to play, and Jordie Barrett crossing in the corner for a sensational 39-37 win.
It cost Australia any chance of winning back the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2002 and put a huge dent in their Rugby Championship title hopes.
They trail the All Blacks by four points, with one game to play in Auckland next.
Rennie said veteran Foley was “shocked” by the decision.
“He’s had a great performance and he feels he’s let people down. He’s gutted,” he said, adding that he would seek clarity from the match officials over the controversial call.
“I’ve never seen a call like that, at any level,” Rennie said. “Let the teams decide the outcome, (it was) just a real lack of feel for the occasion.
“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 referee’s decision in the last minute.”
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It culminated a heart-pumping match littered with yellow cards and injuries.
The sides went to the break all square at 10-10 at a sold-out Docklands Stadium before an explosive second half.
A New Zealand try 90 seconds after the restart — and two more tries when scrum-half Jake Gordon was off the park after Australia’s third yellow card — appeared to end any hopes the home team had.
But the Wallabies never gave up and two tries from Andrew Kellaway inside five minutes and another from Pete Samu set up an exciting finale.
Nic White drilled a long-range penalty with three minutes left to put Australia in front, before the Foley controversy decided the match.
While Rennie was exasperated, All Blacks coach Foster insisted the call was “very clear cut” and Foley had been given sufficient warning.
“They were delaying the kick,” he told reporters. “He (Raynal) said ‘time off’. He warned him then he said ‘time off’ and then he said to 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,” he added. “So when the referee says ‘time on’ you have to play it. I saw it out there. I heard very clearly what the ref said. So I think we’ve just got to be careful.”
A second straight victory, after their 53-3 hammering of Argentina, further eased pressure on Foster, and kept New Zealand top of the Rugby Championship on 14 points.
The Springboks and Argentina face each other on Saturday. Both have nine points.