All Black Sam Whitelock’s shoulder barge as referee sent flying in Australia win

No-one is safe when two southern-hemisphere superpowers like New Zealand and Australia collide, not even the officials tasked with keeping the players in check.

Referee Brendon Pickerill found that out first hand after he got a little too close to the action as the All Blacks hammered Australia 57-22 on Saturday to win the Bledisloe Cup for the 19th year running.

The Eden Park hosts put eight tries past their trans-Tasman adversaries in a much-improved display, zipping to the top of the 2021 Rugby Championship table after the opening match.

And it was during a tetchier opening half in Auckland that Whitelock’s 117-kilogram frame flew into the match referee before Pickerill was sent onto his backside:

The official actually appeared to be mid-fall before Whitelock’s intervention briefly kept him upright, but a mass of players quickly descended to outnumber the man in the middle.

Pickerill, 32, stumbled back to his feet before calling play to a halt, sparing no time returning to his duties by stubbing out a player scuffle before it could devolve into something worse.

Just about any of the players involved in the Bledisloe Cup could inflict some damage if they were to tackle the average human being, but 6’6” juggernaut Whitelock may be the most intimidating of the lot.

The Crusaders captain—also 32—is one of only 10 All Blacks to have made a century of appearances for his national team, fourth among their all-time cap leaders with 127 to his name.

Fellow Kiwi Pickerill is still relatively new to the professional game having only made his Test rugby debut in 2017, but he’s quickly developed a reputation as a rising star among officials.

Even the best can suffer embarrassment among their peers, however, with Pickerill quite literally falling head over heels following Whitelock’s barge.

It’s the sea of players that in fact tripped the referee up as a ruck develops around him, although Wallabies hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa also appears to have some hand in his descent.

Speaking after the game, Australia captain Michael Hooper was damning in his assessment of the Wallabies’ performance but was hopeful of improvements in Perth come August 28.

“We didn't capitalise in the start of the second half and we didn't put them under any pressure. New Zealand showed their class and took their chances,” he said.

“But we fronted up physically and we've got another crack against them in two weeks' time and we'll be licking our lips for that. But it'll be back to the drawing board to have a good look.

“We weren't good enough here over the two weeks – but we'll be back.”

A change in scheduling due to Covid-19 quarantine laws means the All Blacks won’t play in New Zealand again until September 25 when they’ll host the first of two back-to-back games against South Africa.

Pickerill may not be involved in the Rugby Championship officiating until that clash in Dunedin, where he’ll hope to stay on his feet for the entire 80 minutes.

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