French referee Romain Poite ruined the series decider between the All Blacks and British and Irish Lions but typically will face no consequence.
Was a drawn series between the All Blacks and British and Irish Lions really the result the world wanted? No chance. Was it great for rugby the manner in which Poite completely lost the plot with 90 seconds to go? No chance.
Rugby wasn’t the winner at Eden Park. At least not for me. It never is when a referee’s act (read error) is the defining one.
I wanted a winner, be it the All Blacks or the British an Irish Lions. I wanted extra time to decide which of these two teams over a series of three matches was the best.
I didn’t want a refereeing decision in the last minute to be the lasting memory of the series. It was a series that needed to be decided by the act of a player and not the referee, but Frenchman Romain Poite will be the name everyone remembers for this stalemate.
Rugby bosses will laud the series because there was no loser. The Lions won five from 10 on tour and lost, won and drew the three respective Test matches.
They will be feted as one of the great Lions teams because they didn’t lose, but equally they didn’t win!
The All Blacks, back-to-back World Cup winners in 2011 and 2015, kept their unbeaten record at Eden Park, but they too can’t talk of a series win.
The point of sport is to have a winner. No one plays to draw a series.
The romantics may celebrate the result. Neither teams’s players will be that easily convinced that there is a reason to celebrate.
Both captains looked rather stunned at the final whistle. All Blacks captain Kieran Read, playing his 100th Test, said he didn’t know what to feel. Lions captain Sam Warburton looked equally bemused.
The Lions kicked a 77th minute penalty to level the game 15-all and immediately from the kick-off the All Blacks were awarded a penalty for a Lions offside. It was right in front and it would in all probability have been the last kick of the series – and possibly the series decider.
Poite then went upstairs to review his own decision and after several replays decided the penalty was not justified and the initial obvious offside play was merely an accidental offside. The All Blacks chance to win the series through a three pointer went and the match ended with Jordie Barrett tackled into touch on the Lions tryline.
New Zealanders will for the next 12 years wonder how they actually didn’t win the final Test at a ground that has been their fortress since France beat them in 1994. They will also be left wondering how they didn’t close out the second Test when leading 18-9 and 21-14.
In Auckland, in the series decider, the All Blacks lead 7-0 and 12-6 at halftime. They also led 15-12 with three minutes to play.
The Lions won the second Test with a 77th minute penalty and they drew the third with a 77th minute penalty.
The All Blacks Beauden Barrett is a magnificent athlete but his goalkicking in the last two Tests proved costly. The Lions didn’t miss a kick in Tests two and three; Barrett missed four penalties and a conversion.
Barrett is among the most gifted athletes playing rugby but as a Test flyhalf he is still very secondary to his predecessor Dan Carter.
This series was a reminder of what defined Carter as the best there has been. Carter had an all-round kicking game that isn’t in Barrett’s arsenal and Carter, in the biggest games of his life, also nailed the biggest goalkicks.
Barrett’s goalkicking would not have been an issue against lesser teams because the All Blacks would have won comfortably through scoring more tries.
The Lions were not a lesser team. The Lions were a combination of four teams and it is debatable if there has been a stronger Lions squad picked in the modern era.
The only team in world rugby currently that could match these Lions is the All Blacks and over three Tests the world champions couldn’t do more than match them. They didn’t beat them and that will hurt the psyche of New Zealand more than it will the followers of a combined team that only assembles every four years.
The Lions, as a concept, is safe. They are next in South Africa in 2021 and the momentum of the past six weeks in New Zealand will be carried through to South Africa.
The Lions were not good enough to beat the All Blacks in the series but they were good enough not to get beaten.
The Springboks of 2009, in quality of player and game plan approach, were very much like the Lions – and they were the last team to consistently trouble the All Blacks.
The effort and class of the Lions can’t be disputed. They refused to surrender in the second and third Test.
Former Lions and England hooker and outspoken rugby analyst Brian Moore wrote that like all good Test series’ the final Test was likely to come down to one moment of genius or one egregious error.
Then the kicker, if you excuse the pun: ‘Let’s hope it doesn’t come from an official’.
The law that governs ‘offside after a knock on’ states: ‘When a player knocks-on and an offside team-mate next plays the ball, the offside player is liable to sanction if playing the ball prevented an opponent from gaining an advantage.’ The sanction in a penalty.