French farce spoils great Test series in New Zealand

Referees or umpires can often put paid to an excellent game of any sport by making stupid decisions. When this happens — and it does so increasingly these days — the reaction of the sporting body concerned is to try and paper over the whole thing.

Additionally, teams and their coaches/managers are told not to criticise referees or umpires and to respect them. Hence a lot tends to be covered up.

But the fact is that referees and umpires are employees who are being paid well, especially when the sports they are officiating are high-profile. Do they not need to be competent in what they do?

And you can’t get much higher profile than a deciding rugby test between the New Zealand All Blacks and the British and Irish Lions. A French referee, Romain Poite, screwed up the entire game in the last few minutes through a wrong decision.

Poite awarded a penalty to the All Blacks when a restart found one of the Lions players offside. He then changed his mind and awarded a scrum to the All Blacks instead, using mafia-like language, “we will make a deal about this” before he mentioned the change of decision.

When he noticed the infringement initially, Poite should have held off blowing his whistle and allowed New Zealand the advantage as one of their players had gained possession of the ball and was making inroads into Lions territory. But he did not.

He blew, almost as a reflex action, and stuck his arm up to signal a penalty to New Zealand. It was in a position which was relatively easy to convert and would have given New Zealand almost certain victory as the teams were level 15-all at that time. There were just two minutes left to play when this incident happened.

The New Zealand coach Steve Hansen tried to paper over things at his post-match press conference by saying that his team should have sewn up things much earlier — they squandered a couple of easy chances and also failed to kick a penalty and convert one of their two tries — and could not blame Poite for their defeat.

This kind of talk is diplomacy of the worst kind. It encourages incompetent referees.

One can cast one’s mind back to 2007 and the quarter-finals of the World Cup rugby tournament when England’s Wayne Barnes failed to spot a forward pass and awarded France a try which gave them a 20-18 lead over New Zealand; ultimately the French won the game by this same score.

Barnes was never pulled into line and to this day he seems to be unable to spot a forward pass. He continues to referee international games and must be having quite powerful sponsors to continue.

Hansen did make one valid point though: that there should be consistency in decisions. And that did not happen either over the three tests. It is funny that referees use the same rulebook and interpret things differently depending on whether they are from the southern hemisphere or northern hemisphere.

Is there no chief of referees to thrash out a common ruling for the officials? It makes rugby look very amateurish and spoils the game for the viewer.

Associations that run various sports are often heard complaining that people do not come to watch games. Put a couple more people like Poite to officiate and you will soon have empty stadiums.

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