The British and Irish Lions and the All Blacks gather after their drawn series. Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters
The past few weeks have been extraordinary. Covering the British and Irish Lions tour on SuperSport has been a privilege and a labour of love, and the reaction to the tour has been amazing.

People here have gone out of their way to comment on the series. Almost everyone was watching. Considering that, if you exclude CJ Stander and Jaco Peyper, there was no direct SA involvement, this passion is unusual.

Initially it was felt the Lions had no chance, but as their seemingly insane schedule was met, it was clear that there was a daring plan. Results were sacrificed to tick boxes in the lead-up to the Tests. 

Spirit and fairness were stressed and delivered upon within the Lions party, and this led to huge commitment and dedication by all the players.

You could see, even in the midweek side, that motivation was not an issue. Even the loss in the first Test flattered the hosts, albeit slightly, and the Lions did score two good tries. The second test hinged on that red card, a moment of madness by SBW.

Suddenly all the pressure was on the All Blacks. Nobody expected a defeat, or even a shared result would even be a possibility. Then it went down to the last half of that Test. Then, amazingly it went down to the last minute. Who would have believed it?

Yes, the All Blacks were the superior outfit but, in fairness, a scratch team, thrown together with little preparation, managed to evolve into a powerful unit. It was a marvellous tour and series and everyone will look forward to SA in four years’ time. 

The series was so different to the usual rugby fare that everyone loved it. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

What about the ref? We had to get off air sharpish to accommodate the Waratahs game and that was a pity. Romain Poite was wrong. He should have penalised the Lions for off-side and Barrett would have kicked the goal.

The All Blacks were, therefore, unlucky. Were they robbed? That is not so clear. Their first points came from an incorrect call at a breakdown. Far from being penalised, the Lions should have been the beneficiaries of a penalty but, being in the early stages, that is forgotten.

Penalties in rugby can be for dirty play, for unfair play or for unintended technical offences. Yes, cards can result from the first two, but the scoreboard can be affected in the same way regardless of the offence. 

Thus the issue is whether victory and defeat in a tough series or a World Cup or a championship decider should, in a sport, come down to a minor technical offence?

Should intention come into it? How does a referee decide on intent? Rugby has seen fake blood scandals, sly scrummaging tricks, slowing of possession, blocking and, thankfully, rarely, soccer style acting to win penalties. 

The decision can affect careers and fortunes. With so much technology available and both media and social media pressure growing, refs will become more conservative and go with technicalities. 

The end result will be minor, insignificant, unintentional errors costing the lot. This, surely, is not right. Poite was technically wrong but morally correct.

Extra pressure should be taken off the shoulders of refs and other officials.

Rugby referees, at least at top level, are mostly magnificent. A cheat or incompetent wouldn’t last long and the refs police themselves with pride and no prejudice. In which other sport do home referees take part, as in the Super Rugby? 

That is a testament to their ability and ethics. They have a tough job and do it brilliantly, so why pile on negative pressure?

Why do we need public replay? In almost every ruck or maul or line-out there is some sort of a technical offence committed. As a result, losers and partisan fans often feel hard done by and pressure on refs is ratcheted up. 

Why not only allow referees to see the replays and slow-mos? This would allow them to coolly assess technical errors and decide if such blemishes should decide series. 

We could all then concentrate on the play that is on offer and leave the decisions to the officials in a climate of less pressure. It means we have to trust them, but that is the whole basis of the sport.

The referee in rugby is the sole judge of fact. Eradicate detailed public examinations of decisions and we will have a better sport. Isnt that what we all want?

* Robbie is a former Transvaal, Ireland and British Lions scrumhalf.


Saturday Star

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