With the help of a very poor French referee, the British & Irish Lions pulled off a manoeuvre that Harry Houdini would have been proud of. They never looked like scoring a try, breaking the line or ever attempting something creative. Their scrum was average at best and line-out only slightly better. Yet somehow they drew the series.
If these two teams played each other another 10 times, the All Blacks would win all 10; even with sub-standard and arbitrary northern hemisphere referees.
These second rate referees have reduced European rugby to a dull forum of un-sportsmanlike debate where players and coaches seek penalties whether right or wrong.
The first test was by far the best game of modern day style rugby. There were 5 tries scored - three by the All Blacks and two by the Lions.
That match was controlled by referee Jaco Piper, a South African. Unfortunately, the three Frenchman on display during this tour, were shocking. They were consistently fickle and totally preoccupied with looking for a reason to blow the whistle. They were scared to let the game be played. I have been watching the game deteriorate in France since I played there many years ago. Then I used to blame poor coaching and the influence of too many foreign players. Now I realise there is a third factor. It is the demise of their refereeing and the creation of an environment for debate during a match.
The All Blacks launched two debutants into the furnace, both scoring tries.
Jordie Barrett vindicated the selector’s confidence and is a class player who will get better and better. The first try was a classic exhibition of execution. The on-the-button kick-pass from his older brother was calmly tapped infield by the 6'5" Barrett, for Laumape to gather and score. He, Laumape, showed touches of true style in his role as a midfield back.
The Lions’ game plan was all about winning, based on defence. They slowed down the All Black ball and showed unadulterated gamesmanship by targeting their opposition and the referee. Well it worked. Even without the ball for long periods of play, and spending very little time inside the All Black quarter, they managed to kick 5 from 5 - with three from 50m - to draw the match and series.
Carping aside, this was a great tour benefiting both teams, coaches, supporters and the NZ economy. Long may Lions’ Tours of this pedigree continue.
- Murray Mexted, IRANZ Managing Director