England may have won the battle on the pitch against the All Blacks on Saturday - their first win on silver-fern territory since 1973 and only their second ever - but they still cannot find a way of winning the fight with the New Zealand disciplinarians.
Ali Williams, the young lock forward from Auckland whose fierce rucking of Josh Lewsey in the closing stages of the Test landed him on a stamping charge, was yesterday cleared by a three-man tribunal who described his actions as "inadvertent and incidental".
Clive Woodward, the England coach, could scarcely believe his ears. "If this had been an England player, I don't think it would have been the same verdict," he said after arriving here for this weekend's Test with the Wallabies. "I don't have Danny Grewcock [the Bath forward] on this tour because he threw a few handbags at Lawrence Dallaglio during a club match. Here we have a guy who had his head stamped and it's been dismissed. I think players know where they're putting their feet; it's not good enough to say 'I had my eyes shut'. The people who make these decisions just don't understand how the game is played."
The tribunal was chaired by an Australian, Michael Goodwin, but the other members of the panel, Bruce Squire QC and Mattie Blackburn, were New Zealanders. Lewsey needed six stitches in a wound behind his left ear, and his face was badly grazed. Unsurprisingly, he was far from happy at being trampled so ruthlessly - "I wanted to have a go back but Martin Johnson [the England captain] told me to shut up and take the bullet," said the full-back - but will now have to put it down to experience.
Five years ago, another North Island second-rower, the celebrated Ian Jones, was cleared of stamping on the face of Graham Rowntree, the Leicester prop, during England's heavy Test defeat in Dunedin - a judgement that appeared to contradict clear video evidence. Ironically, Rowntree was penalised for misuse of the boot at the very ruck in which Lewsey was hurt. That decision, taken by the Australian referee Stuart Dickinson on the advice of his touch-judge, led to an England penalty being reversed and might easily have cost the tourists a famous victory.
Meanwhile, the Wallaby coach Eddie Jones has exacerbated his own selection problems at outside-half by dropping Elton Flatley for disciplinary reasons. Flatley, who played in the victory over Wales on Saturday, missed a compulsory recovery session in Parramatta after oversleeping and has been omitted for one match. With Steve Larkham and Matt Giteau confined to barracks because of injury, Jones is now scratching around for a Test-quality stand-off.
"We certainly didn't want it to happen this way, but we'll move on and adjust our game according to who takes Elton's spot," he said. "It's a hard lesson for him to learn - he's a good young fellow and there aren't many better - but we have a disciplinary code and he knew that failure to comply might lead to the type of action we've taken."
Joe Roff, the ACT Brumbies wing who was instrumental in defeating the Lions in 2001, and Nathan Grey, the New South Wales centre who achieved a degree of notoriety by putting the England flanker Richard Hill out of that same Lions tour, are among the fill-in candidates. Jones might also consider Julian Huxley, the uncapped Queensland stand-off, who scored 18 points in his state's weekend victory over Samoa.