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A bad decision but good result

If there was a dollar given out for every time since the final whistle sounded on the epic British and Irish Lions series that someone has said the result is good for the game, there’d be enough money to fund Donald Trump’s next election campaign.

So much for the phrase I can first recall being used in rugby by former Springbok captain Morne du Plessis. When Naas Botha dropped a goal to draw a Currie Cup final between Northern Transvaal and Du Plessis’ Western Province way back in 1979, Du Plessis said it was like kissing your cousin.

But it is understandable why people think a draw was a good result and that the All Blacks or the British and Irish Lions did not emerge as outright victors, particularly from neutrals who are concerned about the state of the game.

I will never forget my late father telling me when we were listening to the 1977 series between New Zealand and the Lions that he wanted the Lions to win as the All Blacks had dominated rugby for too long. That sentiment is probably even more applicable today.

I thought the All Blacks were the better team over the three tests against the Lions. The touring team won in Wellington because the All Blacks had a player red carded. Yet the All Blacks would still have won that game had Beauden Barrett kicked decently for poles. And if Barrett kicked like Owen Farrell did, the All Blacks would have won as well. That would have made it 3-0 to the All Blacks.

Had there been a South African ref and not a more pedantic French ref in charge of the last two games, the All Blacks might also have won more easily. It may not have been a coincidence that when the All Blacks won convincingly, Jaco Peyper, a good referee all the southern hemisphere players are very familiar with, had the whistle.

Romain Poite was a disaster at Eden Park. There was such confusion at the end of that game that I thought he wasn’t even sure whether he should blow the final whistle or not.

His call at the end relating to the Ken Owens offside was the wrong one, and as a result of that, we will probably be hearing that refereeing controversy being debated long after the other aspects of what was a great series will be forgotten.

But, and admittedly I am speaking here as a neutral, does that really matter? The publicity generated by a bit of refereeing controversy is not necessarily bad for the game as it adds to the drama and theatre. Welsh referee Clive Norling was in a similar situation as Poite was back in 1981 in that he faced the prospect of presiding over a drawn series decider between the All Blacks and the Boks.

The players who were in that Bok team reckon Norling played so much extra time in that game was because he wanted there to be a winner. It might have been the opposite with Poite. My point though is that we still hear Norling’s name being mentioned, all of 36 years later, and it has helped that series live on in the memory more than the flour bombs and Ray Mordt’s hat-trick of tries.

Yes, Steve Hansen is right that the sport should be simplified. And for goodness sake, let’s not ever get to the point where the TMO starts adjudicating on every technical infringement. The TMO has too much say as it is, and the protracted deliberations in that match and other games I watched over the weekend slowed the play down.

When all is said and done though, the result was good for rugby because it should make a little dent on the arrogance that some felt was starting to creep into Kiwi rugby.

For once we saw the All Blacks under real pressure, and frankly they looked vulnerable. When last did you see the All Blacks be so undisciplined? It might be unkind to describe it as a choke, but you did get the feeling that while not being able to shoot for goal, the All Blacks were good at shooting themselves in both feet.

It was also good that the Lions didn’t win it. They weren’t quite good enough for that, and it would have been a bit like the 1997 series here, where the Lions went home winners mainly because of Carel du Plessis’ inexperience as a coach and missed kicks.

That is not to say the Lions of 2017 weren’t good. As John Robbie said in the pre-tour promo, going to New Zealand is like trying to climb Everest. The Lions were more than competitive, and they pushed the All Blacks out of their comfort zone. Which hasn’t happened in a long time.

It is hard to see anyone pushing the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship, as it is a bit too soon in the Bok resurgence – you don’t think about Polly Shortts at the start of Comrades – and the Wallabies just won’t be up to it. But at least there are question marks, and when last did we see an All Black team being changed as much as it was in this series?

The Lions also showed in the second half in Auckland what it takes to deal with the All Blacks – you need to slow the game down. It is as simple as that. And if you can get the referee to help you do that, then good for you.

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