In the recently released six-part documentary All or Nothing: the New Zealand All Blacks, the dramatic crescendo to the first episode focuses on the finish of last year's third test against the British & Irish Lions test at Eden Park.

Supporters of the All Blacks won't find it any easier to watch a year after the event, a stalemate test which drew the series, and nor will they find any explanation for why Romain Poite changed his mind in the 78th minute on the penalty for offside in front of the posts or why his assistant Jerome Garces convinced him to do so.

In the confused melee of a re-start, Lions front-rower Ken Owens caught the ball in an offside position, and then, realising what he had done, dropped it in horror and waited for the inevitable.

"At the end when he awarded the penalty I thought 'oh, we've snuck home here'," Ben Smith tells an interviewer on the documentary, a sentence which neatly encapsulates the sentiments of all those packed into the stadium and watching around the world.


"The referee immediately thought it was offside," coach Steve Hansen says in the same episode. "Over time and many people interfering and discussing, he chose to change his mind. It's a game where human error comes into it whether you're a player or referee, so it's okay to be frustrated. But at some point you have to let that go too."

World Rugby have never felt the need to explain Poite's u-turn which altered the course of the series, and it was the culmination of events over three weeks which surely displayed once and for all that match officials don't automatically favour the All Blacks, a spurious theory which has again gained currency recently for the actions or non-actions by referee Luke Pearce in last weekend's first test against France.

Kieran Read and Sam Warburton talk to referee Romain Poite. Photo / Photosport
Kieran Read and Sam Warburton talk to referee Romain Poite. Photo / Photosport

Last year there was no outcry about Poite's "we have a deal" response and decision after his private conversation with Garces from the Northern Hemisphere media covering the match or back home and nor was there when Lions flanker Sean O'Brien clouted Waisake Naholo in the second test which left the All Blacks wing with a concussion.

Nor was there after Mako Vunipola's shoulder connected with Beauden Barrett's head in that same test in Wellington, for which the Lions prop was only sinbinned. Earlier, Vunipola was penalised for a late tackle on Barrett.

Rugby is a ridiculously complex and dynamic game, which, at the top level, is faster and more high-impact than ever. As Hansen says, human error will inevitably play a part. It's tough to referee, even for fully professional officials who during the 80 minutes have assistance from three others.

And that's another point – there is little consistency in terms of how often the television match official is expected to have a say. In the two tests last Saturday night, George Ayoub (also the TMO in that infamous Lions test at Eden Park), was a discrete and quiet presence during the All Blacks v France fixture but in the next one between Australia and Ireland, Ben Skeen was forever in the ear of Marius Jonker.

The All Blacks are an easy target for criticism for their profile and their incredible run of success. There is also a predilection in some areas of the media, here and abroad, to give them a slap in the modern, digital, world because it generates clicks, likes and retweets. It's an angry echo chamber which muddies the water for when the All Blacks genuinely do transgress.

It probably won't ever change, and nor will the All Blacks' ruthless attitude to the game, and the two probably go hand in hand. Hansen sums it up in the well-named All or Nothing when he says of that drawn third test: "We feel like we lost and that's because we expect to win. Do we want to change that? No."


To get the day's top sports stories in your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here