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Owen Doyle: Lions pay a high price for key blunders by Williams and Curry

Penalty call against Lawes harsh but butchered try-scoring chances lost it

Liam Williams: Lions missed a crucial chance to offload with the try line beckoning during the third and deciding Test against South Africa at Cape Town. Photogaph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Liam Williams and Tom Curry, please explain.

When the Lions trekked off at half-time they led 10-6, whereas the score should have been, at least, 20-6 in their favour. They might well have been out of sight.

Williams failed to deliver the simplest of passes to Josh Adams who would have had an unopposed run-in to score. Instead Williams chose to dummy pass the last defender who wasn't having any of it, and duly stuffed him with a perfect tackle. It's a damn hard job to unlock the South African defence but here it was opened wide, the try there for the taking.

It's an insult to young kids to refer to this as a schoolboy error; it was, plain and simple, a monstrous blunder, which will haunt Williams. To make matters a whole lot worse, Willie le Roux attempted no such thing as, later on, he correctly delivered to Cheslin Kolbe on the overlap, who then skinned Williams for a vital touchdown.


The Lions were on their way to a second try as another very controlled maul drove towards the goal-line, the defence unable to halt the advancing phalanx. Inexplicably, Curry left the maul, blocking 'Boks skipper Siya Kolisi in the process. However, good a player he is, Kolisi would not have been able to prevent the try, Curry's action wasn't a difficult spot for referee Mathieu Raynal, who whistled the obvious penalty.

Back row forwards always live on the edge, and Curry is no exception, but he should have realised he was not going to get away with this one. Whatever he was thinking about, it was both foolish, and costly, in the extreme.

Two driving maul tries in three matches is a paltry unimaginative return, and underlines an over-conservative, kicking game plan

Raynal put in a very good performance, far and away the best referee of the series. He brought both the necessary calmness and firmness to proceedings, only speaking when necessary. Explaining his decisions very well, he quite rightly refused, politely but adamantly, to be drawn into debate on his calls.

The Lions will study closely, though, the late penalty against Courtney Lawes who seemed to roll out of the tackle area pretty smartly. But it wasn't smartly enough for the referee; a harsh call, particularly considering how critical the moment was. As Morne Steyn teed up, there was only going to be one outcome; it was the winning kick, but the match was more surely lost in the first half when those try-scoring opportunities were butchered.

The loss of Dan Biggar saw the very early, fortuitous introduction of Finn Russell. He, at long last, put some zip and creativity into the attack, which, sadly, never managed to get over the whitewash. Two driving maul tries in three matches is a paltry unimaginative return, and underlines an over-conservative, kicking game plan; when last in SA, under coach Ian McGeechan, the Lions crossed for six, five by the backline.

While this was a half-decent game, the whole series failed to ignite or impress, instead it has been a poor advertisement for rugby, and for the Lions’ image. Then there is the damaging ‘Erasmus Affair’, which still leaves a very tricky problem on World Rugby’s plate.

The tour will not really be over until this is concluded, and there are probably two ways which it can go. The first is that whatever charges are brought against him, and against SARU, will be legally and hotly contested. If that is the case, then things have the potential to get very nasty, and nobody knows where the whole thing could end up, the only certainty being that the lawyers will clean up.

Guilty plea

The alternative is a guilty plea, with Erasmus and SARU apologising unreservedly, abjectly. This might, just might, allow World Rugby to decide upon a very meaningful punishment by way of a suspension and fine, but without actually throwing away the key. I’d suggest not holding your breath on this one.

Having decided not to bother watching New Zealand v Australia on Saturday morning due to a bad dose of rugby boredom, I relented and tuned in to the second half.

There were six tries in this period, seven really, but the best one was ruled out for a very marginal forward pass, when New Zealand opened up from well inside their ‘22,’ at high speed there were 10, maybe 11, passes before Sevu Reece touched down near the right hand corner. Magnificent.

There is nothing wrong with the game when played like this, and also the way that Australia and France performed in their recent marvellous three-Test series. The trouble is 'attitude,' the use of brawn rather than brains to win matches. World Rugby's solution is to tinker with the laws, and there are interesting times ahead as we see their effectiveness, or otherwise.

It seems that everybody has now thrown their hat at the scrum, including allowing ludicrously crooked throw-ins

When Mako Vunipola drove over the 'Boks try line, but was held up, the match restarted with a five-metre scrum; from now, the restart will be a goal-line drop-out to the defending team. While this is a copycat of rugby league, WR also advise that the change is intended to reduce the number of scrums.

Used properly, the scrum is a great attacking platform, with all of 18 players committed to each set-piece there’s a lot of rare, valuable space about the place. But far too many teams prefer to generate penalties, rather than sticking to its true purpose of restarting play.

It seems that everybody has now thrown their hat at the scrum, including allowing ludicrously crooked throw-ins, in Cape Town they were going in at right angles to the tunnel. Risible.

Rob Kearney, playing recently for Western Force in Australia, gave us an excellent example of another rugby league import, the 50:22 kick-law, fielding the ball outside his own '22,' he advanced to halfway.

Support was at hand, but he didn’t consider it, simply kicking the ball hard, bouncing it in-field before finding touch, deep in the opposition ‘22’. This piece of so-called rugby “creativity”, involving nothing more than actually kicking the ball out of play, saw the Force rewarded with an attacking lineout, their throw.

Too often, it's becoming hard to remember that, once upon a time, William Webb Ellis picked up the ball, and ran with it.

Owen Doyle

Owen Doyle

Owen Doyle, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a former Test referee and former director of referees at the Irish Rugby Football Union