Tuesday 12 December 2017

James Lawton: Pollock's decisions sink showpiece into foggy game of chance

If Brian O'Driscoll managed to ward off the temptation – just – non-combatants should probably refrain from saying that referee Chris Pollock was a pygmy of outrageously subjective influence when he supervised the first Test giants.

This is no reason, though, for rugby's ruling body to ignore the fact that it is presiding over two separate games, one played in the northern hemisphere, the other in the south, and that every showpiece game is now at the mercy of the absurdly arbitrary judgments of someone like Pollock.

Israel Folau ran in two tries of dazzling accomplishment. George North responded for the Lions with a run worthy of breaking any game.

But who was it that truly towered above the conflict, who constantly threatened to shape the outcome?

It was the man with the whistle, the one whose judgment in the vital area of the breakdown was deemed by Warren Gatland to be nothing less than "crucifying."

When someone as experienced as O'Driscoll wears a face of absolute bewilderment, when he admits later that he could not trust himself to indulge his scavenging genius for work around the tackle, you know you have a problem. You have superb professionals at the mercy of whim.

We can only speculate on the degree of Gatland's public rage had Kurtley Beale landed one of his two late penalty attempts.

One barb guaranteed to sail home was Gatland's assertion that, "it is very difficult to step up from the provincial level to referee in the Test arena."

Definitely guaranteed to provoke indignation is one defence of Pollock's handling of the breakdown. It is said Pollock operates on the theory that the flow of the game is paramount, so that when a breakdown forager like O'Driscoll applies himself, he is not so much performing a sterling service for his team, but lowering the entertainment level.

O'Driscoll argued politely that he was operating within the laws of the game. He then withdrew from the discussion, concluding that however much he stayed on his feet, he was still in danger of going off his head.

None of this touches upon the technical nuances of rocket science. It is concerned with logically codified rules which should leave the rawest of players as aware as an old war dog like O'Driscoll of what he can and cannot do.

Instead, in one of the most crucial areas of the game, rugby turns itself into a matter of chance. The advantage rule is also as contracted or as stretched as a Pollock deigns.

Most calamitously, players of the greatest distinction and experience are plunged into the fog.

That they did not finish up thoroughly lost was a fate narrowly avoided by the Lions. They can only hope that they will be able to see more clearly in Melbourne next weekend. Surely it is time to shine a little light in an extremely murky place? (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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