British and Irish Lions 2013: Tourists demand better refereeing
Tourists unhappy with communication between officials and fear tackle area problems in Test
The World Cup-winning Wallaby coach Bob Dwyer may have taken the first shot in the war over Test match refereeing and be held responsible for the outbreak of hostilities ahead of the Lions series, but the visitors have fired back.
Rob Howley, the Lions attack coach, raised concerns over the lack of communication between the officials who controlled his side's match with the Brumbies in Canberra on Tuesday night and made a plea for a correct interpretation of the laws at the tackle area.
The Lions hierarchy did not say as much immediately after the defeat by the Brumbies – their first against provincial opposition since 1997 – but in private they were deeply dissatisfied with the performance of the French official Jérôme Garcès and bewildered by the lack of help he received from his touch-judges, contrary to every other tour game thus far.
"No, I can't explain the sudden lack of information from the touch-judges to the referee, but we were all disappointed by it," Howley admitted. "I'd like to think that with Craig Joubert and Romain Poite running the touch this weekend, it will be different. It's important that they have an input with Chris Pollock [the New Zealand official who will be in charge of Saturday's Test].
"We all know that the tackle area will be a key aspect of the game, because it's not only speed of ball that's important, but quality of ball too. We have to be allowed the chance to get over the ball and win the shoulder battle, so it's important that the referee makes the tackler roll away. There has to be clear separation between the ball-carrier and his support at the contact area. Against the Brumbies, there wasn't that clear separation."
Before last weekend's game with the Waratahs in Sydney, there was a good deal of interest in Dwyer's condemnation of the Lions as "cheats". In particular, the man who led the Wallabies to a world title in 1991 accused the tourists of sharp practice at the scrum – an allegation that raised many an eyebrow, coming as it did from an Australian – and questioned the legality of their tactics at the breakdown.
In response, the Lions head coach, Warren Gatland, belittled Dwyer by expressing sympathy for him. "I think it's a sad indictment of the media world that someone like Bob is rolled out," he remarked. "He deserves more respect, given what he's achieved in the sport. I don't think he knows much about Twitter or Facebook and for him to be subjected to a tirade of abuse… I don't think he deserves that."
Pollock, the least experienced of the officials awarded control of this highly-charged series, will receive a good deal more advice between now and kick-off. All the advice he could ever need, probably. This is inevitable. As the Lions discovered in South Africa four years ago, the 31st man on the field – and, indeed, his two colleagues on the sidelines – can decide the outcome of a series as surely as a dead-eyed goal-kicker.
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