Unpredictable Romain Poite’s selection for potentially decisive third Test sends a shiver down the spine
Both camps have welcomed the appointment of New Zealander Chris Pollock for the first Test
Munster’s Paul O’Connell at odds with referee Romain Poite in an Amlin Cup tie.
The Lions roadshow moved on to the warmer climes of Brisbane yesterday, where the forecast heavy rains of Friday are due to move on and ensure a dry match day come Saturday’s first Test.
But the performance of Jerome Garces in the Lions’ defeat to the Brumbies in Canberra was a reminder of the vagaries of referees during the course of this tour, and especially with the Test series in mind, not least the dark cloud hanging over the potentially decisive third Test in the shape of Garces’ compatriot Romain Poite.
For the time being, both camps have welcomed the appointment of New Zealander Chris Pollock for the first Test. According to official IRB statistics on the 2013 Six Nations, Test matches refereed by Pollock average only 17 penalties per game, which, for examples is a long way short, not surprisingly, of Wayne Barnes, who averages 26 per match.
Of those 17 penalties under Pollock’s watch, 11 have been for breakdown infringements and given Pollock averages only three per match against the attacking side, both the Wallabies and the Lions should be encouraged to keep the ball in hand and build through the phases.
Significantly, Pollock awards only 2.7 penalties per match for scrum offences, something that the Australians will welcome, for the scrum, or at any rate how it is policed.
The impression being portrayed by the Australian media is that “the Wallabies want to secure quick, clean scrum ball to unleash creative backs and the Lions more intent on manipulating the set pieces for three-pointers”.
Hence Bob Dwyer’s publicly stated concern about the Lions playing outside the laws of the game, as any side coached by a New Zealander does, and specifically when it comes to the scrum, albeit highlighting Dylan Hartley’s penchant for making his opposing hooker pop up at scrum time.
Pollock’s statistics at scrum time is in stark contrast to Poite, the man who will control the third Test in Sydney after Craig Joubert referees the second Test in Melbourne. His games averaged six scrum penalties per match, and all against the defending side.
That the card-happy and unpredictable Poite was chosen for the third Test sends a shiver down the spine – think back to the Nathan White sin-binning in the endgame of the Rabo PRO12 decider between Leinster and the Ospreys over a year ago which went a long way toward deciding the title.
When it comes to the breakdown, a la Garces, Poite is also more inclined to allow a French-style free-for-all, with players continually going off their feet without punishment, as was the case on Tuesday.
Asked about Pollock’s approach to the breakdown on Saturday compared to Garces, the Lions assistant coach, Rob Howley, yesterday commented: “It’s all down to how the referee referees that, in terms of the tackler rolling away, and allowing us to get over the ball and win the shoulder battle. We have to be allowed to do that so there has to be a separation between the ball-carrier and your support system. Last night we felt that we weren’t allowed to get into that separation, mainly down to our technical deficiencies, but also because there wasn’t a clear separation at the contact area.
“The way Chris Pollock refereed the second Test out in Australia (v Wales) last year, we’re more than happy that the tackler will have to roll away and we can get our support systems around the ball. We’re quite happy with Chris Pollock refereeing, he’s an outstanding referee.”
Howley and the rest of the Lions management were clearly less than happy with the contribution, or lack of, from touchjudges Jaco Peyper and Glen Jackson in Canberra. “You would like to think with Joubert and Poite (this Saturday) that there would be a lot of influence from the tough judges.”