IT was a thrilling tour and series no doubt but that the third and deciding Test should be marred by a farcical decision that could have altered the result was not a good advertisement for the game.
Mind you, it’s the not the first time rugby has had to go through something as controversial and contentious as this in a major Test and despite the repeated controversies, World Rugby has chosen to keep mum, instead of reassuring coaches, players and fans alike that it is definitely taking steps to improve how the game is administered and officiated, especially the latter, and hopefully from there restore confidence and integrity into the game.
What happened in the last two minutes of that third Test between the All Blacks and the Lions at Eden Park last Saturday was simply unbelievably in the way French referee Romain Poite switched from one decision to another and yet another. Worst, there was also a sinister element to it before he finally decided what to do and this surely is something World Rugby must want to know, to get to the bottom of it, so that the slightest hint of foul play by the officials is dealt with.
What deal was Poite referring to when he called aside team captains Kieran Read and Sam Warburton? And whose deal? What did fellow Frenchman and assistant referee Jerome Garces tell him on the earpiece for something like 15 to 20 seconds, although Garces was on the opposite side of the field?
But instead of showing sensitivity and a commitment to not worsen an already controversial situation that is still simmering especially in New Zealand, the world governing body has decided to appoint Garces to referee the opening Bledisloe Cup/Rugby Championship game between the All Blacks and Wallabies in Sydney on August 19 and again in the away All Blacks game against the Springboks on October 8.
Garces referred the second All Blacls-Lions Test in Wellington two weekends ago and was not without his own controversies.
Not many dispute that the Lions played above expectations on this tour to prove many of their doubters wrong but they surely must also know that had the refereeing in the last two Tests been better, the results could have been in favour of the hosts. They were boys who were willing to run with the ball, defended and tackled well and showed a lot of enthusiasm and determination but at the same time appeared to have benefitted from some dubious penalty calls from Garces and Poite.
One area World Rugby needs to resolve fast is the protocol involving the role, power and responsibilities of the television match official.
Earlier comments from retired referees and those made immediately after the Poite controversy all indicate that the referee is to refer to the TMO only when confirming if a try has been scored and for foul play.
But as can be seen in the last few years, referees have been aided by information from the TMOs on a forward pass, a knock-on, a foot in touch and other infringements. There have also been cases when the TMO would alert the referee to an offence other than those he is assigned to look at.
Following this tour, former referees have also pointed out to anomalies in the laws.
One is on the tackling of a player in the air, which when drawn up, was intended to protect a player who’s leaping in the air trying to gather an aerial bombardment.
Another is a player who’s offside at a ruck and in the way of an intended pass from the base of the ruck to the first receiver.
In the third Test the Lions gained a penalty when replacement All Blacks prop Wyatt Crockett was trying to get out of a ruck but found his legs caught in a pile up. Crockett was on the ground and not in the way of a pass from Rhys Webb. But Webb took advantage of the law to milk a penalty by simply placing the ball on Crockett when he could have passed the ball to his first receiver without interference.
But overall the All Blacks have only themselves to blame in the deciding Test.
They had several opportunities in the first half and if not for the handling errors, could have wrapped up the match by halftime.
Winger Julian Savea, recalled to the team after an injury to Waisake Naholo and an illness to Rieko Ioane, dropped the ball a few times in that period.
Not having a more reliable goalkicker will also haunt the All Blacks in tight games. Beauden Barrett may have gone into the series with a better success percentage than Owen Farrell, as pointed out by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, but seen in the right context everyone else says Barrett is not the best of goalkickers. The most frustrating aspect is that while he does kick over many difficult kicks, he also misses many simple ones, which is rarely the case with kickers with the other top teams in the world.