TV3 News last night quoted an online 'poll' in which people were asked to identify who was to blame for the All Blacks' loss. Fifty-five percent of those who chose to respond blamed the referee, with the remainder pointing the finger at (from memory) the team, the coaches, and "other."
(Curiously, no one in the poll mentioned the French, which may just have been a flaw in the poll, or it may point to a curious flaw in the NZ supporter -- the inability to give credit to a team who beat us fair and square.)
But can we really blame the ref?
This is rugby, remember, and one of its characteristic features is that it's planted thick with laws, man's laws, laws requiring the interpretation of one individual with a whistle who has the power to penalise.
Good players play to the referee. They recognise that, in a game like rugby, forward passes won't always be picked up (and they'll be happy to take the rub of the green when those missed calls go their way). They notice what the referee allows and disallows, and they play to that line. That's what good players do. What good players don't do, or shouldn't do, is put their own fate and that of their team's in the hands of the ref. When the ball was chipped over his head and he chose to step in front of the French chaser, right in front of his own posts, that's exactly what McAlister did. He gave the referee the power to decide his fate. To do that in a club game would be dumb. To do it in a World Cup quarter final ...
If anyone's to blame for McAlister being sin-binned, it was McAlister. If he thought the chip for the line was covered, then shepherding the runner was unnecessary and dumb. If he thought the line was undefended, then he was offering himself up to be sent off, and offering the French a penalty try on a plate. If, that is, he thought about it all -- and the evidence for McAlister having much to think with at all is comparatively scanty.
The referee wasn't to blame. To ask the referee to decide your fate like that -- and then to have your supporters blame the referee -- now that really is just dumb.