The blame is all yours, Mr Poite
There was a joke doing the rounds on Twitter shortly after the Springbok game on Saturday – if Bryce Lawrence and Romain Poite were both drowning and you could only save one – what type of sandwich would you make?
It was a tad crass and summed up the feelings about the French referee pretty well from a South African point of view. Romain Poite made a gutless, poor call that cost South Africa their best forward, cost the world the opportunity to see a real humdinger and tainted the name of referees the world over.
Poite was poor. He was disgraceful in the manner he ignored his TMO and he set refereeing back a decade with two moments of madness that will forever be linked to his name.
Up to that moment Bismarck du Plessis signified everything that was right about this Bok team. He was physical, he was uncompromising. He took two exceptional turnovers, anchored a scrum that monstered the World Champion pack and put in a magnificent tackle on Dan Carter.
Even Carter has come out afterwards and backed Bismarck. He is not alone. New Zealand press members were embarrassed by Poite’s ridiculous call. New Zealanders may be biased in favour of their team, but they know a shocker when they see one.
And as refereeing shockers go, this was one of the worst. Poite chose to ignore the advice of the TMO. He decided to act alone and against all the evidence decided that Du Plessis’ tackle was high and without arms. On both accounts, wrong again.
What is unforgivable is the way the decisions were made. Television match officials have been employed for the simple reason that they can take sober, sanitised decisions away from the emotion of the on-field calls. They sit in a cubicle precisely for that reason with a television monitor to help them make objective calls.
The International Rugby Board has placed a lot of emphasis on referees owning their calls. There was a tendency for referees to start referring every try-scoring move to the TMO and it was felt that this was getting out of hand. So refs were encouraged to look at the big screen and if they felt they had enough information, to make the decision themselves.
Poite has done this before as well. Although the consequences were not as brutal as in Auckland on Saturday night, he chose to ignore the TMO in both Scotland’s tries in Nelspruit, despite evidence that the tries should never have been.
While the players pleaded for the first Scottish try to be referred to the TMO because of a knock-on in the movement, it was ignored. And the second Scottish try saw a deliberate obstruction as Siya Kolisi was held back and taken out of play, but despite the TMO pointing out the obstruction to Poite, he chose to ignore it.
So what now? Unfortunately the Boks can do absolutely nothing. Referees are a protected species. Despite all the frustration and anger, the Boks are perfectly helpless to do anything about it. Accept it and move on. Keep your mouth shut and don’t whinge. It’s not the right thing to do.
And so as they headed out the door to catch their flight back to South Africa there was a collective quiet anger about the proceedings of Saturday night, coupled with a senseless feeling of helplessness to do something about it.
There are a lot of referees around who are good. They make mistakes but they do own up to them and are punished. It is not a perfect science and we all understand they are human.
The majority of refs get it right to be blighted all too often by this sort of monstrosity of a decision. They are hard working and do their best in the heat of battle.
Chances are nothing will happen to Poite. He will be privately sanctioned and returned to action in a few months. He will receive a slap on the wrist.
Consider this against the fact that world rugby was robbed of the heavyweight clash it was waiting for. The Boks struggled early on but showed enough to set up the prospect of a mouth-watering second-half clash. How good are these Boks? Would they have been able to test the All Blacks? With only 14 men, that is never an option.
Rugby was the real loser on the night. The game deserves better than this. The All Blacks – who bare no blame in this travesty – deserve a better contest. The Boks deserve a better test. World Rugby deserves a rivalry built on tradition. Fans worldwide deserve the biggest game since the World Cup to be the showpiece of the sport.
Rugby does not need arrogant officials who ruin games on a spineless whim. Poite made his decision in front of 48 000 baying New Zealand fans, who were looking for blood. He lost his head in a moment in which he is supposed to be the one who should have kept it – that's what he's trained for.
Romain Poite has a lot to answer for with his decisions.
But until someone draws a line in the sand, chances are he never will.