Referees need more help, says diplomatic Hansen

Steve Hansen: 'We had plenty of chances to win the game.'

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen wants World Rugby to streamline the sport’s laws to in order to cut down on referee errors.

His call comes in the wake of Saturday’s controversial call by French official Romaine Poite to downgrade a penalty against the British & Irish Lions for a deliberate offside to an accidental offside. The decision denied New Zealand the chance to kick the potentially match and series-winning points with two minutes remaining of the third and final Test against the Lions.

Instead of the kick, the All Blacks were awarded a scrum and the Lions held out for a 15-15 draw which levelled the series, the first time the tourists have shared the spoils since a four-Test series with South Africa in 1955.

The incident came from an All Blacks restart that followed Owen Farrell’s equalising penalty for the Lions. Lions full-back Liam Williams and New Zealand captain and No.8 Kieran Read contested in the air.

Under pressure from Read, the ball bounced loose off Williams into replacement hooker Ken Owens’ arms. Poite initially called a penalty on Owens for playing the ball in an offside position after it had been knocked on, although it appeared to be knocked sideways. He then asked the TMO George Ayoub to check for a possible tackle in the air by Read on Williams, during which time Lions captain Sam Warburton asked the referee to assess the possibility that it was an accidental offside.

Ayoub decided Read had not taken Williams out in the air, while Poite watched the replays on the stadium’s big screen and made his own decision that Owens’ offside actions were accidental rather than deliberate, all of which left the All Blacks mystified that they had been denied the penalty and potential victory.

Hansen would have preferred a penalty advantage given that centre Anton Lienert-Brown had picked up the loose ball and had a clear path under the posts but the human error issues in the decision-making process prompted him to call on the governing body to address the issues which have impacted a three-Test series officiated by Jaco Peyper, Jerome Garces, and Poite, working in rotation as match referee and two assistants.

“I have always said the game is extremely difficult to referee. If you also take Nigel Owens, they are supposedly the three best referees in the game. There will always be human error. What we have to do is help them, not bag them. We need to find ways of helping them have less moments like we did throughout the series.

“That is a World Rugby thing. They run this game and with the help of people within that we have got to help the referees so it becomes easier and more simple to referee the game.

“It is a really complicated game. With all the sections in the laws, there is one of the problems. Do I go there, or there, or there? Rather than is it, or isn’t it? When we have things with multiple interpretations, there will always be human error.

“There is no point us as a team being frustrated. I said last night that as young people we are always taught to respect the referee and play to what he sees and that is what we will do. We had plenty of chances to win the game.”

Hansen was happy with a team of four, including the TMO, working together through the series but said he would have liked to have one referee in charge of all three Tests, and preferably Welsh official Owens.

“I’d have been happy if Nigel Owens had done them. We get hell-bent on having neutral referees but I think the best referee is the best referee — he is going out and adjudicates what he sees and what he doesn’t see, and will then be supported by the next two best.

“What I don’t think we should do though is make this series about the referees. I think that is a separate issue and something World Rugby has to address and try and fix it to make it easier for them.

“This series is about two very good rugby teams coming together and challenging each other in different ways, different styles and it came out a draw.

“It’s a shame we don’t have another one next week.”


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