With France leading 3-0, Gardner believed Fall was not in a reasonable position to contest the ball and the rest is history, with the All Blacks running away against 14 players to win 26-13.
There was even more uproar when an independent judicial committee deemed that Fall’s contact with All Blacks centre Anton Lienert-Brown in the lead-up hindered his ability to contest properly for the ball.
The Frenchman was let off because of further video footage, which was not available to Gardner at the time. Sections of the media unfairly criticised Gardner because the decision was deemed “wrong” by definition, which prompted Rugby Australia to back him publicly.
Referees never want to be the centre of attention, which is why Gardner thinks being able to replace a player after 20 minutes with a substitute is a fairer outcome for not only teams but fans.
“I do definitely like it,” Gardner told the Herald. “The fact France are then down to 14 against the All Blacks for more than 60 minutes makes it hard. For stakeholders, people have paid money to see a contest 15 on 15.
“The great thing about the competition we’re about to have is it’s the only rugby in the world at the moment [along with New Zealand]. We have a great opportunity where everyone is watching our variations and that’s a great position in rugby in Australia because we can lead the way in that respect.”
By the same token, Gardner isn’t sure that someone who commits a serious offence on the field, in the ilk of an eye gouge, should be allowed to be replaced.
“This is the hard thing [to decide on] but really ugly acts of foul play like stomping or eye-gouging, perhaps a team should lose a player for the entirety of the game,” Gardner said. “A challenge in the air where he gets it wrong or a stand-up tackle where he gets his timing wrong, I think being able to replace after 20 minutes is great.”
Waratahs coach Rob Penney shares a different view, saying teams shouldn’t be punished for an entire match because of one player’s brain explosion.
“I think the thuggery has been mitigated out of the game to a large degree,” Penney said. “If someone was to eye-gouge, they’re not coming back. It’s not the whole team’s fault someone has lost their rag. Most of them are an inadvertent high tackles or something in the air. If you’re playing 70 minutes with 14 [players], it’s only really going one way.”
Gardner believes the new rules will make the game more exciting but knows the pressure will be on during ‘Super Time’, which is rugby’s new version of golden point.
During two five-minute extra-time blocks, a team can slowly creep down field and possibly earn a penalty to then ice the game. Gardner’s call, one way or the other, could determine the match.
It is high-stakes rugby, in the case of defending players trying to win a turnover. Succeed and it could put your team in a winning position. Screw it up and it could be game over.
“You definitely want the players to decide the game and as a ref you prefer to not make a decision that decides it,” Gardner said. “If you have to, you have to. It does create a heap of excitement if we get to a drawn game and we go to golden point. I think it’s going to be great to see.”
Tom Decent is a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald