Loose Pass

Date published: July 11 2017

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with tense finales…

Law breakers

They say a draw is like kissing your sister. This one wasn’t that bad, after all, it was a cracking game of rugby that led us to the big anti-climax.

At one point, with the scores locked at 15 apiece, Kieran Read and Sam Warburton climbed up from one of the tooth-rattling rucks and looked at each other. Read turned to Warburton and said, “Wow, this is rugby.”

It was rugby, so to speak, for the entire 240 Test match minutes. The second Test in Pretoria 2009 is the only game from the modern Lions era I can think of that might have bettered this one. Otherwise, all three Tests of this tour were right up there among the top five.

Better still, the last two are loaded with talking points for many a pint. Both Tests featured game-turning decisions in the closing moments, one which helped the Lions win the second Test, one which saved them from an excruciating defeat in the third.

Read provided the soundbite in the second Test, asking, after Jerome Garces had penalized Charlie Faumuina for a mid-air tackle on Kyle Sinckler: “If everyone jumps into a tackle, is it a penalty every time?” To the letter of the law of course, it is a penalty. But what was Faumuina supposed to do?

Rugby players are not dishonest enough en masse to ensure a spate of players jumping into contact in future matches, but this is a law that needs looking at, as Read’s question delivered exactly the kind of common sense that the law does not provide.

As a young child some 30 years ago, one of the first things ingrained into me as a rugby-playing nipper was never to jump into contact, as it was dangerous for the tackler – knees into collarbones etc. We would be penalised for it, probably with a goodish ticking off to boot. Now we are to be penalised for being jumped into? Outlawing jumping into contact would negate both danger to the tackler and unavoidable penalties of course…

And then it was Romain Poite’s turn. Kiwis were aggrieved at Poite’s reversal of his decision that cost the All Blacks a shot at a series-winning goal, but many, if not all, of them were the same ones who were aggrieved at Craig Joubert’s decision to award a penalty to Australia that saw them past Scotland in the last World Cup… just saying!

Anyway, to the incident… Poite is a fine referee with a deserved reputation and did this match impeccably up to that point. However, the Ken Owens offside was not a decision that needed reviewing. As soon as Owens played the ball, it was a penalty. What probably did need reviewing was Read’s jump at the ball in the air; he had barely a sniff of a chance at winning it and he surely contributed directly to the fact that the ball came loose.

Poite’s words: “We have a deal” were unsatisfactory in this instance. It made you feel as though he had looked at all the possible transgressions together, added them up and come out with the average outcome – a scrum – rather than the series-clinching three-pointer it surely would have been otherwise.

Still, there it was. Kiwis who believe the Lions didn’t deserve the shared series are hard to find. Lions are returning from the toughest rugby challenge in the world with heads held high – and are now off to a well-earned break after a ridiculous 11-month season.

And if this column focuses on those moments of refereeing controversy, we’ve arrived at those after digesting so many other moments, from Alex Edwards crashing on Rieko Ioane’s floor in blissful ignorance, to Sonny Bill’s red card, to the Maori haka, to Sean O’Brien’s try, to Read junior bursting into tired tears as his Dad received the 100th cap. It was a tour to remember for all, where nearly all the controversy was played out on the pitch, one that will fuel many a fireside conversation down the next four years.

In the (slightly altered) words of a dignified, centurion All Black captain: “Wow, that was rugby.”

And now?

What next for the Lions? The drawing of a series many expected to be a blackwash has clearly staved off talk of the concept being ditched, as have the numerous soundbites from those players who – without exception – describe being a Lion as the pinnacle of their careers.

Clearly South Africa is next. And just as clearly, Australia will follow. But after that?

Argentina, as with the Tri-Nations, cannot be kept away for long. However poor their current form is, you watch some of their play and you know that it is a team not far away from clicking – any problem may even be more mental than one of skill or strength.

They’d need to put up a bit more than just the Jaguares as tour opposition, but two top-four finishes in the last two World Cups makes its own case, as does the perpetual annual victory over either of South Africa or Australia.

And what a country for the tourist! Red meat, red wine, fabulous camaraderie, mountains and stadia which froth with the fervour of the locals. Keep this on the radar please, Lions management.

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens