French ref arrived at right call

13 July 2017 - 08:01
Referee Romain Poite. File photo
Referee Romain Poite. File photo

The British and Irish Lions and New Zealand played out a great final Test match in Auckland on Saturday, which ended in a 15-15 stalemate.

I don't believe the drawn series is a hollow result, as some have suggested. Two quality teams went toe-to-toe for 240 minutes and, in the end, it was fitting the spoils were shared over a hard-fought three-match series.

The major talking point from the third and final Test at Eden Park was referee Romain Poite's decision to downgrade a penalty and award a scrum to the All Blacks after consultation with the television match official (TMO) in the 78th minute of the match.

There has been a public outcry in New Zealand, owing to Poite's U-turn. However, the reason I support Poite in this instance is because he did not interfere with the result when he could have.

I have been going on about referees in rugby for a very long time for this exact reason. Rugby rules are very complicated and the referee plays a huge role in the game, more than any other sport.

However, the overriding principle is that players should win matches and referees should not determine the outcome. We must say well done to Poite because common sense prevailed and, contrary to popular opinion, the 41-year-old made a good last call.

By the letter of the law Poite should have awarded the All Blacks a penalty, but in the same breath he could have blown for Kieran Read being ahead of the kicker - a strict directive from World Rugby - and taking the man out in the air prior to Ken Owens playing the ball in an offside position.

The point I'm trying to make is that it's not about whether Poite was right or wrong in the latter instance. It's about the bigger picture and, as coaches, our plea to referees is not to be the ones to decide the results in closely fought matches.

On the back of controversial decisions Poite has made in the past, I believe he has learnt valuable lessons and grown as a Test referee. It's now evident that Poite is aware referees should not be the centrepiece of the spectacle. The players are the chief protagonists and they are the ones who must earn the column inches.

Moreover, the fact that the Frenchman, who will officiate in the upcoming Rugby Championship, took responsibility for the big, late decision underlines that he has developed into a good referee.

With the British and Irish Lions having drawn a series against New Zealand for the first time in their 129-year history, Clive Woodward has suggested the All Blacks have lost their mystique and "are clearly not as good as they thought they were".

Although I don't believe the All Blacks have lost their aura, there will definitely be renewed belief among the home nations, particularly England and Ireland, that they can beat New Zealand, having matched them in the famous red jersey away from home.

Rugby in Europe would have benefited owing to the fact that the visitors proved highly competitive against the reigning world champions.

The six-week Lions series was a roaring success and I'm anticipating the composite team touring South African shores in four years' time.

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