‘Lower-tier fans have had a gutful of the inconsistency’: Shag calls for the TMO’s head – but is it really such a big problem?

Eloquent, pragmatic, perceptive, loyal, humorous, and defensive when he wants to be – that is former RWC-winning All Blacks head coach Sir Steve “Shag” Hansen in a nutshell.

No doubt, there is more to the former Kiwi police officer.

For the best part, Shag exudes human traits, albeit in different proportions. When he used to be at the helm of the ABs, I had the privilege of shoving my Sony voice recorder under his chin or crouching, holding and engaging as part of the media scrum post-Test matches.

I recall, several years ago, rubbing my hands with glee at the thought of having a Q+A with Shag to myself because the “big boys” of rugby writing did not want to travel to the remote rural town of Wairoa in the North Island of New Zealand.

With the then 2019 RWC looming, I was hoping he would throw me a morsel or two for the back-page lead story, after a high school first XV team clinic. No matter what angle I had tried, Shag had sidestepped any attempt to confirm the status of squad members.

“You did well,” a grinning Shag had said, with a hearty slap on the back after I had switched off my recording device. No, I had not, but I came away seeing a bloke in a different light than what many see on TV.

But it is what Shag said recently on a podcast that got me wondering if he had been “playing cards” with his family just before the interview.

That is when his alter ego, Stanley, comes charging out, letting pride get in the way. Even the kids do not want to play when Stanley is around. The family members know because they had identified the Stanley alter ego that Shag tries to keep on a leash.

Steve Hansen, during the World XV training session. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images for Barbarians)

This time my preoccupation is with his uncompromising calls to be rid of the TMO bunker system because it assumes the mantle of refereeing games “in replay”.

Citing RWC stand-in skipper Richie Mo’unga’s ‘jackling’ penalty in the final, Shag labelled it a classic case of “inconsistency”. Was it really? I would say it is more likely to be a referee’s mistake.

That is not to say I’m better versed in the laws but, assuming Shag is right, Barnes had overlooked Mo’unga’s release of the ball before carrying on foraging. If so, a penalty to the ABs.

When the lower-tier teams have decisions go against them, especially on a losing note, the patronising rhetoric out there seems to be “you played really well and were unlucky”. When the New Zealands and Englands of the world lose: “It is time to sack the TMO. The fans are really getting sick of it. We’re going to turn off a lot of people”.

????️ “Gone are the days when the referee has control of the game in rugby.”

???????? Sir Steve Hansen shared his thoughts on the state of the game. #RWC2023 https://t.co/CgdRgiZHNK

— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) November 2, 2023

Trust me, the lower-tier fans have had a gutful of this sort of inconsistency.

Should we sack the whole bang lot of the suits who run World Rugby, Shag? Whatever happened to the ABs’ sense of introspection?

I think that they could have taken out the refs/TMO/bunker from their equation. Those who wear the tag of being “among the best in the world” must show us why they are above the blame game.

I am guessing Shag’s advocating this drastic measure to show support for his former ABs assistant, Ian “Fozz” Foster. It is his way of saying the changing-of-guards ceremony is fine because Shag’s predecessor, Graham Henry, had done that for him.

Had Fozz won, the ritual of the outgoing head coach ushering in his assistant would have been a finger-wagging “I-told-you-so” to the face of NZ Rugby and silenced Fozz’s critics.

It is no secret some NZ fans had treated Fozz abysmally but the end does not justify the means. The irony is, predominantly the very fans Shag believes may be turning off the game may also be the ones who had turned on Barnes and Fozz like a pack of undomesticated dogs.

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While Shag does admit Barnes “isn’t the problem”, I have not heard him publicly denounce the cowardly act of not just death threats against the Englishman who has since quit, but also those who openly partake in bullying the ref.

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