Wallabies star James O’Connor and coach Dave Rennie have accused France captain Anthony Jelonch of the ultimate rugby sin – football-style gamesmanship in what they viewed as a successful act to get Marika Koroibete sent off in a gripping third Test.
Rugby is no stranger to baffling refereeing decisions but Ben O’Keeffe reaching for a red card after five minutes was genuinely jaw-dropping.
You feared Australia would melt, Cadbury-style, without one of their top three players but instead they somehow played better with just 14 men.
Injured playmaker O’Connor called Jelonch out for covering his face and crumbling to the Suncorp Stadium turf after Koroibete rocked him with his shoulder.
“It’s pretty frustrating,” O’Connor told Nine and Stan Sport at halftime, with scores locked at 20-20 in another remarkable Test match.
“If you’re playing in the spirit of rugby that’s not something I guess you do.
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“To me it looked like, blatantly, Jelonch’s been hit, he’s dropped the ball and then he’s reacted because of that.
“So pretty frustrating but it’s almost brought us together a little bit and we’re playing some faster rugby which is good.”
Young loose forward Jelonch was captaining a second-string France for the first time Down Under.
In commentary for Nine and Stan Sport, All Blacks legend Andrew Mehrtens pulled no punches and labelled the red card an “absolute travesty.”
Speaking after his first series win as Wallabies coach, Rennie described fellow Kiwi O’Keeffe as “an excellent referee” but shared O’Connor’s disdain for Jelonch’s actions.
“There was a couple of situations where our guys got clocked in the head but they didn’t stay down,” Rennie said.
“They just get up and get on with it.
“So maybe that’s the difference.”
Rennie praised the Wallabies for a “smarter” kicking game and a “massive” defensive effort.
“We showed a lot of steel tonight.”
It meant Australia retained the Trophee des Bicentenaires and will enjoy some time to celebrate a gruelling, unique 11 day series before reloading for the Bledisloe Cup opener at Eden Park on August 7.
“Really pleasing,” Rennie said.
“Amazing character and we’ll grow from a pretty special night.”
While Jelonch’s alleged dive won’t win him many fans in Australia, Les Bleus’ overall contribution to a memorable series can’t be overstated.
‘Try from the end of the world’
France endured hotel quarantine while fulfilling their Test commitments and played some spectacular rugby with a severely depleted squad.
It underscored their claims to a potential first Rugby World Cup on home soil in 2023.
“Each game down to the wire so thanks to France travelling around the world in this day and age, it made for a great competition,” Wallabies captain Michael Hooper said.
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