(Reuters) - All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has defended flanker Sam Cane and Ofa Tu’ungafasi after a double tackle on France’s Remy Grosso left the winger with a fractured cheekbone during the series-opening test in Auckland.
Grosso was taken to hospital during the All Blacks’ 52-11 win at Eden Park on Saturday after Cane’s arm and Tu’ungafasi’s shoulder made contact with his head in the second half.
France coach Jacques Brunel labelled the tackle “illegal” but Hansen said the contact was accidental.
“Our game is really fluid, there’s movement in it, and when you get two guys coming in to make a tackle on one, things can change late. I think that’s what happened,” he told reporters in Auckland on Sunday.
“Sammy made the tackle and Ofa ended up hitting him in the face with his shoulder accidentally. There’s no intention to hurt him. Unfortunately it’s one of those things.”
World Rugby has cracked down on high tackles this year with any contact with the head or neck resulting in a yellow card.
Referee Luke Pearce awarded a penalty to France for the tackle but did not refer the incident to television official George Ayoub, and Cane and Tu’ungafasi escaped sanction.
The incident added to Brunel’s frustration after France lock Paul Gabrillague was yellow carded for a high tackle on Ryan Crotty early in the second half, a decision that proved to be the turning point in the match.
Television replays showed Gabrillague had not made any contact with the inside centre’s head or neck.
“I can understand they’ll be a little bit miffed when their guy got yellow-carded,” Hansen said.
“I don’t think their guy should have been yellow-carded, and nor do I think Ofa should have been yellow-carded, either.
“We have been here before where the referees don’t always get the decisions right, but that’s part of the game.”
Hansen added that inside centre Sonny Bill Williams was in line to make a surprise return for the third test in Dunedin after initially being ruled out for the series to have knee surgery.
The coach said Williams had been cleared to resume running this week, two weeks earlier than expected, but would not be available for the second test in Wellington next Saturday.
There was only disappointment for uncapped squad member Jordan Taufua, however, the loose forward ruled out of the series after tearing a calf muscle.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Ian Ransom