One British critic, in reviewing the rugby year of 2017, felt the British & Irish Lions owed their drawn series against the All Blacks to the referees.
While many northern reactions rated the Lions tour such a success because the series was drawn, former 37-Test England prop Jeff Probyn wrote in The Rugby Paper the Lions tour had been a disappointment to him, in spite of it being hailed as a wonderful success, because the referees and not the players decided the results of two of the three Tests.
“Apart from the sending off of Sonny Bill Williams in the second Test and the denial of a penalty to New Zealand for offside against Ken Owens in the final seconds of the drawn third Test, there were decisions which I felt distinctly helped the Lions,” he said.
His view on standards between the hemispheres was interesting. He believed the addition of the Cheetahs and Kings into the PRO14 competition proved that Sanzaar team rugby standards were no better than those in Britain and Ireland. This, in spite of the fact, the two sides were lowly performers in Investec Super Rugby.
“The rise of the north has been partly down to an improved performance by our teams, but also a marked decline in the strength of the Southern Hemisphere game,” he said.
Australia had financial and logistical problems while South Africa was ‘fractured by the politics of the past’.
“Despite coach Allister Coetzee’s best efforts, as long as the quota system remains it will be impossible for anyone to say when and if South Africa will ever be competitive again.
“Only New Zealand have continued to perform at the levels we have come to expect when facing the Sanzaar nations, but they have begun to look more vulnerable,” he said.
Probyn didn’t say if that was due to the absence of key players during the year, or because of the introduction of new players to Test rugby and the expansion of the All Blacks’ playing base.
However, an offshoot of the Lions tour had been the way players who had missed out on selection lifted their games for the November international series.
Probyn was frustrated that problems still abounded with the ball not being fed straight into scrums.
“Despite some doubtful attempts by World Rugby to address issues at the scrum, nothing has been done to enforce this law and as a result, the technical skills once needed in the front row have been diminished to a level where size seems to be all that counts,” he said.
Probyn also believed that the Television Match Official, originally introduced as an aid to the referee, had now become almost more important than the referee.