Saturday 16 December 2017

All Blacks cry foul after Poite U-turn saves Lions

 

Referee Romain Poite stands next to All Black captain Kieran Read and Lions captain Sam Warburton as he downgrades a call made in the final minutes from a penalty to a scrum during the Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park on July 8, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Referee Romain Poite stands next to All Black captain Kieran Read and Lions captain Sam Warburton as he downgrades a call made in the final minutes from a penalty to a scrum during the Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park on July 8, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Jonathan Sexton tries to get past Sam Whitelock. Photo: Getty Images

RuaidhrÍ O'Connor in Auckland

Steve Hansen opted not to criticise referee Romain Poite for his controversial call to downgrade a potentially decisive penalty to a scrum in the closing stages of yesterday's epic 15-15 draw with the Lions, but the All Blacks coach made it clear that he felt the French referee had made a mistake.

There is no guarantee that Beauden Barrett would have landed the penalty to win the series after missing two kick-able efforts earlier in the game, but the decision was a major talking point in the aftermath as the sides shared the series.

Poite initially awarded a penalty when Liam Williams spilled a 79th-minute restart under pressure from Kieran Read and the retreating Ken Owens played the ball, but then reviewed the decision and chose to award a scrum.

The All Blacks attacked from the scrum, but couldn't get over the line and had to settle for a drawn series.

"It's a tough game to ref," Hansen said in his opening remarks at the post-game press conference. "We all know what should have happened but, at the end of the day, it's a game.

"As little kids we're taught to accept the good with the bad, and that's what we're doing here. I'm not going to talk about it; the ref made his decision and we're going to live with it."

Although he said he wouldn't expand on his initial thoughts, the World Cup-winning coach was persuaded to return to the issue. "Go back to the World Cup and the same thing happened where Scotland missed out [on a semi-final] because they didn't use the video," he said.

"This time they had a video and a pow-wow. His initial instincts were that it was a penalty and then he spoke to his team of three and one of them suggested it was accidental. If we had scored another try ourselves, we wouldn't be talking about this. We'll look at the things we can control.

"There's too many avenues that you can go down. That's not the ref's fault, that's the law-book's fault. The people in charge of the game need to look at it."

Warren Gatland, who arrived into his own post-match press conference sporting a red nose in a nod to the New Zealand Herald printing a cartoon of him depicted as a clown, disputed Hansen's assessment.

"I thought it was a penalty to us," he said. "I thought Kieran Read . . . I didn't think he had any chance of getting his hand on that . . . that was my initial thought, that he had hit the player in the air.

"I can understand that he is saying he's competing for that, and the ball has come [down] and landed in Ken Owens's arms. In fairness to the man next to me [Lions captain Sam Warburton], he has been quite smart and astute and been able to talk the referee from a penalty into an accidental offside."

The drawn series has come at a cost, particularly to Leinster who will be fretting over Sean O'Brien's shoulder injury.

"I spoke to him just before coming to the press conference," Gatland said. "He said it's a little bit better than it was at half-time. He just had no power in his left shoulder.

"We'll just see how he turns up tomorrow. We'll probably look to get him scanned and see. He's got a piece of his hip in there, replaced some bone in the past."

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