Real risk Sydney Test decider may hinge on referee Romain Poite’s interpretation of the laws
There is a strong argument for having the same referee in charge for all three Tests in this series
Romain Poite: will officiate the decisive third Test in Sydney.
It’s a sad but true state of affairs that teams now feel obliged to almost spend as much time analysing their next referee as their next opponents.
Indeed, so much of modern day penalties, especially at the breakdown, but also the scrums, hinge on the varying interpretations of referees from match to match, that there was an argument for having the same referee in charge for all three Tests in this series.
Refereeing egos and political correctness would probably ensure that never happened, but if that was the case, then Craig Joubert would assuredly have been the most popular choice. The Lions management and players had few quibbles with the penalties given against them by Joubert himself, less so with those called by his assistants.
And all in all, given they have placed such a huge emphasis on discipline in all forms, the Lions’ collective frustration over the amount of 50-50 calls which have gone against them is actually greater than the two judicial hearings which have cleared James Horwill of foul play; not that they would privately have been too enamoured with that either.
Take for example the Australian targeting of Mako Vunipola. Andy Farrell eluded to this on Sunday when saying that the Lions felt the interpretation of the set-pieces was “a little bit of a lottery at times”, adding: “We felt that Mako (Vunipola) had a binding issue from his opposing prop a couple of times early doors. I think Australia are very streetwise.
“They were playing the referee, there’s no doubt about that.”
Going to ground
Recently-retired Wallabies captain and lock Nathan Sharpe admitted on the Fox Sports commentary that Vunipola’s ability to take the bind had been raised with the officials, and it was touchjudge Chris Pollock who sanctioned Vunipola for going to ground for the Wallabies’ first three-pointer last Saturday.
Yet the Lions were livid that Ben Alexander didn’t bind on Vunipola’s back but rather on his left arm, thereby illegally pulling him down.
Farrell also referenced Joubert penalising the Lions for crossing onto the Wallabies’ side of the lineout, which the Lions would have less problem with if Ben Mowen hadn’t been allowed to do the same to Jamie Heaslip. “But that’s the game and they were streetwise and got away with it, and fair play to them,” said Farrell.
The offside call against Dan Lydiate by the other touchjudge, Romain Poite, is also disputed, not least as the Wallabies were ahead of the Wallabies’ hindmost foot repeatedly, but the one that took the biscuit was following a long kick-off by Jonny Sexton, which Wycliff Palu ran back infield.
Tommy Bowe makes the tackle and Tom Youngs is in first and set to steal the ball or force a penalty for holding when Michael Hooper comes in from the side; his entry is actually from a 90 degree angle to the ruck.
How Poite and Joubert contrived to miss that is remarkable. From the recycle, Mowen clearly ‘bridges’ in securing the ball without punishment, an offence which had cost the Lions three points in the first Test.
The Lions tour manager Andy Irvine believes there would be some merit in having the same referee for all three Tests, but in stating that the laws of the game required “a complete rethink”, especially at the breakdown and scrum, where 20 or 30 per cent of the time a decision could just as easily be made by tossing a coin.