Kiwi media jumps in with 'cynical' Lions jibes
New Zealand paper offers plenty of advice to third Test referee, while Gatland's men go bungee jumping
The Lions have been enjoying themselves in Queenstown this week, the town that likes to think of itself as New Zealand's cradle of outdoor pursuits. While the players frolic on jet-boats, explore in helicopters and even jump off bridges, the All Blacks have continued to grumble about their defeat in last weekend's second Test.
One newspaper, the New Zealand Herald, the same one that last week portrayed Lions coach Warren Gatland as a clown as reported by Sky Sports, even suggested that the Lions might have won in Wellington by devious means. Not only did the tourists win the second Test to set up Saturday's mouth-watering decider in Auckland, they also prevented their hosts from scoring a try - the first time the All Blacks have failed to cross the whitewash in a home Test since 2002.
But what the Lions did do was concede 13 penalties, ten of which were in range of kicker Beauden Barrett. The Kiwi fly-half landed seven but missed three, crucial misses as it turned out. According to the Herald, what they describe as the Lions' "cynical infringing" might be part of a carefully conceived strategy to slow up the All Blacks and prevent them finding the rhythm that often ends in them scoring tries. The paper reminded its readers what All Black captain Kieran Read said to French referee Jerome Garces midway through the first half last Saturday: "Is there a way we can speed up rather than them going down at every scrum and line-out? We just want to play."
That was five minutes before Sonny Bill Williams was sent off for smashing his shoulder into Anthony Watson's head, but even after his dismissal, says the Herald, "the Lions appeared more than happy to roll the dice and give away three points, rather than risk giving up seven".
Criticising referee Garces for not controlling the game better, the Herald says that the Lions' infringing "proved a more-than-effective tactic", leaving the paper to muse: "The question in all this is timing: giving away a penalty directly after a line break or strong carry gives the impression of it being intentional".
When the claims of gamesmanship were put to Ian Foster, the All Blacks assistant coach, he replied: "You can make your own opinion on that. All I know is we've been getting a lot of penalties, which generally occur at fast-ball situations."
But would the Lions deliberately give away penalties within range of the posts? If Barrett hadn't missed those three kickable chances on Saturday the All Blacks would have been out of sight going into the final quarter. As it was they led 18-9 and only a desperate Lions fightback, as their opponents flagged in the final stages, saw them home by the skin of their teeth.
More likely, the Herald is trying to alert Saturday's referee, Frenchman Romain Poite, to the number of penalties conceded by the Lions (after two Tests they have given away nine more than New Zealand), planting in the official's mind the thought that it might be a deliberate tactic and therefore worthy of an early yellow card. "He's an experienced ref and he's been witnessing what's been going on so he's had a pretty good preparation for this Test I would've thought," said Foster. “We've got a group of three [referees] there that have been operating together. We have always applauded that so they can grow and learn through the series so I'm sure he's learnt a lot from the last two Tests."
While the Kiwis drop hints to the referee, the Lions are dropping off bridges on the end of a bungee rope. Jack Nowell, George Kruis and Taulupe Faletau, who have all featured in the Test series, did the leap of faith in Queenstown, with the blessing of the Lions’ strength and conditioning coach Paul Stridgeon. "The boys haven’t had any proper days off, so it’s great to have the boys refreshed," he said.