They’re the men in the middle whose decisions and actions are as influential. as those of the players on both sides involved the DHL Lions Tour – the referees. But what do we know about the three men who will control the biggest games of the year?
Given the four-year cycle of Lions Tours, an appointment to one of those limited Test matches is perhaps the pinnacle of a referee’s career, one likely only eclipsed by the World Cup Final. However, few would argue that anything in rugby even comes close to a Lions Test in terms of atmosphere.
Appointments Fulfill Neutral Policy of World Rugby
Back in March World Rugby announced that South African Jaco Peyper and Frenchmen Jerome Garces and Romain Poite would control the three Test matches; keeping in line with the policy of neutral match officials for Tests [something that means world-leading referees from the Home Unions, like Nigel Owens and Wayne Barnes, can never referee a Lions Test].
Notable though is the absence of an Australian referee. However Angus Gardner (see below image) did control the Tour opener in Whangarei, and he does officiate the Highlanders game in Dunedin tonight.
Frenchmen Pascal Gauzere and Mathieu Raynal have each had a tour match; with the Blues and Crusaders games assigned to respectively.
Trio of Referees Who Control Tests Will Hold Much Influence
But almost all of the attention will fall on the main trio, and Last Word On Rugby’s resident match official Scott MacLean takes a look at each of their respective styles:
South African Peyper has been handed two big assignments on the Lions Tour; before he controls the First Test at Auckland’s Eden Park. Peyper also has the unofficial ‘Fourth Test’ against the Maori All Blacks in Rotorua this weekend.
Peyper has an affable style, and was amongst the first of the new wave of referees that broke the ‘dour’ mold usually associated with those from the Republic. While technically and tactically strong, he does at times seem to rely too much on using managing ‘through talk’ rather than any one action and/or sanction; a case in point being parts of his performance in the heated Ireland vs New Zealand Test in Dublin last November.
Expect however that he’ll try to create a fast, free-flowing game which is more likely to play into the All Blacks hands rather than that of the visitors; though it’s often a case with him on the decisions he doesn’t make rather than the ones he does.
Garces has the Second Test at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, which follows his earlier assignment – the midweek Chiefs match in Hamilton.
It can be hard to tell what you’ll get from Garces; just when you think you’ve got him pegged as a straight, almost poker-face official; he’ll have a game where he seemingly tries to out-do Nigel Owens in the chat stakes. Either way though, he’s not afraid to let the players know that they’re players and he’s the one refereeing the game, and deals accordingly.
What you’ll see with Garces is a strong technical focus. He’s regarded as one of the better international referees at scrum-time and regularly rewards good, strong straight scrummaging; something that might not bode well for All Black props Joe Moody and Owen Franks. He’s also particularly stringent on players not rolling away at the tackle and unafraid to make a big call at the end of a match, like he did at the end of Japan’s historic RWC win over South Africa.
For the second successive Lions Tour, Poite has the Third Test, just as he did in 2013 when he controlled the decider in Australia. Like both Peyper and Garces he also has a tour match before his Test, in his case it’s the Hurricanes game in Wellington ahead of the Second Test.
If there’s some doubt over which version of his countryman will show up, there isn’t with Poite. The former policeman invariably comes across as dour and officious; some might say ‘typically French’. That said, he’s a very good technical referee who knows the laws of the game extremely well – something we saw earlier this year when he knew exactly what Italy were up to in their Six Nations match against England at Twickenham even if (somewhat famously) England didn’t.
'I'm a referee, not your coach' – Roman Poite channels his inner Nigel Owens in exchange with England stars pic.twitter.com/MW9pSvur9Y
The obvious fear is that a Poite-controlled game becomes a stop-start penalty-filled affair, especially so if the series is tied up. In the event that he might appear to be the main influence, expect the onus to be on clear direction. When the question of penalties is made, the players; not the ref, are ultimately controlling the outcome.
I don’t think that will be the case, as often the Frenchman produces games that are at odds with his own demeanor. Go into the test with preconceived assumptions, and Romain is likely to act differently.
Rugby’s Greatest Series – DHL Lions Tour
The players and referees will be familiar with each other, not just from the international stage but also in their respective hemisphere competitions, and would have prepared accordingly. Peyper controls Super Rugby matches, Poite and Garces Premiership Rugby, Top 14 and Pro 12. So they are not wholly new to the combatants or analysts.
It’s still difficult to see anything other than an All Blacks whitewash in the Test matches to be honest, but the styles of the two French referees in particular might give the Lions an edge – if they can turn the game into the type of contest they want. The tourists might have shown that hand with the 1966-esque 12-3 win over the Crusaders. Do that again during the DHL Lions Tour, and if one or all of the three appointed referees act in ways different to the common assumptions, it may force the All Blacks to have a ‘Plan B up their sleeve’.
The first test of the DHL Lions Tour begins on June 24.
“Main Photo Credit”