Lions tour: Mark Reason: Cheating off the ball in New Zealand rugby has reached epidemic level

Lions winger Jack Nowell offers a consoling handshake to injured Chiefs winger Toni Pulu.
BRUCE LIM/PHOTOSPORT

Lions winger Jack Nowell offers a consoling handshake to injured Chiefs winger Toni Pulu.

OPINION: The late arrival of the Lions bus at Waikato stadium barely 60 minutes before kick off was clearly because New Zealand motorists had been changing lanes in front of it and running illegal blocking manoeuvres.

Warren Gatland said he would be raising the matter with Transport Minister Simon Bridges in the hope that the Lions route to Eden Park on Saturday would be kept clear.

Well, all right, so that's just a bit facetious but Gatland was quite right to call out all the cheating that goes on off the ball in New Zealand. It has now reached the level of an epidemic.

Chat live with Mark Reason about the Lions tour from midday on Tuesdays and Fridays.

The first time that the Lions put up a high kick against the Chiefs Johnny Fa'auli looked over his shoulder and ran straight across Elliot Daly. Fa'auli had absolutely no intention of trying to play the ball.

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But just to make sure, Stephen Donald also ran across to block.

Prop Joe Marler applauds a Lions' play from the sin bin after flooring Toni Pulu.
HANNAH PETERS/GETTY IMAGES

Prop Joe Marler applauds a Lions' play from the sin bin after flooring Toni Pulu.

They might just as well have strung a wire across the road like Burton and Eastwood did in planning their escape from the Schloss Adler in Where Eagles Dare. Certainly Daly had as much chance of reaching his target as those munted German motorcyclists.

Jerome Garces, the referee, called Fa'auli across and said, "After the kick don't change your line."

Mysteriously Garces did not give a penalty on that occasion, but at the start of the second half he had had enough and penalised Fa'auli for blocking.

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Former Chief Jared Payne dives over for a Lions try.

The Lions' Iain Henderson is held up over the tryline.

Lions wing Jack Nowell dives over for his second try.

Chase Tiatia of the Chiefs charges forward.

Jared Payne of the Lions is congratulated on his try by Robbie Henshaw.

Chiefs captain Stephen Donald of the Chiefs looks on during the first half.

Lions wing Jack Nowell celebrates scoring a double.

Former Chief Jared Payne runs in the Lions' third try.

Siegfried Fisi'ihoi of the Chiefs skips out of a tackle and makes a break.

Robbie Henshaw of the Lions kicks the ball through.

Lions wing Jack Nowell dives over for his second try.

Former Chief Jared Payne is tackled.

Lions wing Jack Nowell is congratulated by team-mate Greig Laidlaw after scoring their team's opening try.

Greig Laidlaw of the Lions kicks downfield as Chiefs halfback Finlay Christie closes in.

Tim Nanai Williams of the Chiefs looks for a way around Robbie Hensha.

Dan Cole throws a pass for the Lions.

Lions wing Jack Nowell dives over to score the opening try.

The Lions' Joe Marler of the sits in the sin bin after receiving a yellow card for a late tackle.

Johnny Faauli of the Chiefs is tackled by the Lions' Elliot Daly.

Chiefs halfback Finlay Christie is hauled down by CJ Stander.

Chiefs second five-eighth Johnny Faauli runs hard at the Lions' defence.

Lions first five-eighth Dan Biggar tackles Tom Sanders of the Chiefs.

The Lions' Iain Henderson is held up over the tryline.

Lions captain Rory Best shouts instructions.

Chiefs first five-eighth Stephen Donald kicks a penalty goal.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie walks along the sideline.

Lions coach Warren Gatland walks off the pitch ahead of the match.

Lions wing Jack Nowell is tackled by the Chiefs' Lachlan Boshier.

Chiefs captain Stephen Donald kicks the ball through.

Lions first five-eighth Dan Biggar throws a pass.

Liam Williams of the Lions is tackled by Chiefs captain Stephen Donald.

Courtney Lawes of the Lions and Dominic Bird of the Chiefs contest the ball in the lineout.

Chiefs wing Toni Pulu gets medical attention.

CJ Stander of the Lions is tackled.

The Lions huddle together before the match.

Chiefs halfback Finlay Christie is tackled by Iain Henderson of the Lions.

James Haskell of the Lions is tackled by the Chiefs' Chase Tiatia.

Robbie Henshaw of the Lions runs at Chiefs captain Stephen Donald.

Michael Allardice of the Chiefs drives the ball forward.

Liam Messam, centre, and his Chiefs team-mates perform the haka.

The Lions' Elliot Daly skips through the tackle of Finlay Christie.

Lions wing Jack Nowell checks on injured Chiefs wing Toni Pulu.

Robbie Henshaw of the Lions is stopped by the Chiefs defence.

Dan Cole of the Lions charges upfield.

James Haskell of the Lions is wrapped up by the Chiefs defence.

Fireworks before kick-off in Waikato.

The Lions face up to the Chiefs' haka.

Visiting Lions fans made the presence known.

Lions coach Warren Gatland looks on before kick-off.

A Chiefs fan gets ready for a big night.

Nervous Lions fans await the start of the game.

A view of the Lions' dressing room.

Lions fans arrive early for the Waikato clash.

Young Chiefs fans show their colours.

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With the amount of sheep living in this country perhaps there is no surprise that New Zealand teams are so fond of shepherding, but it is a blight on the game.

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The Chiefs were just as guilty of blocking the Lions runners whenever they tried to chip over the line. The officials for yesterday's game will all be in place for the first test, with the exception of the TMO, and the Lions had decided it was time to make their case.

At one point captain Rory Best went up to Garces and said, "When we put those little dinks in behind them they're body checking."

Stephen Donald kicks for position against the Lions.
HANNAH PETERS/GETTY IMAGES

Stephen Donald kicks for position against the Lions.

The Lions are fed up with this sort of nonsense, as the whole of rugby should be, and have decided to make a concerted protest. Gatland said in the week, "The frustrating thing for us is the amount of blocking that's going on.

"The off-the-ball stuff, it makes it difficult to complete attacking opportunities and situations because there is so much happening off the ball in terms of holding players or subtly holding players. We've raised it with the ref already. It's part of the game in New Zealand, all New Zealand teams at the moment are doing it."

They are and, of course, the real name for it is cheating. This is the sort of thing that has New Zealand calling up the great Sir Colin Meads to defend the honour of the nation. Before the 2011 World Cup it was suggested that Sir Richie, the Crusaders and the All Blacks were repeatedly and deliberately holding players off the ball.

Lions winger Elliot Daly tries to evade the tackle of Finlay Christie for the Chiefs.
PHOTOSPORT

Lions winger Elliot Daly tries to evade the tackle of Finlay Christie for the Chiefs.

It was coached cheating and it was subsequently confirmed that the head of World Rugby's referees had warned the ABs about the practice. Of course half of New Zealand still threw up their hands in horror at the suggestion, aghast that such things should be said. Pass the port to the left, said the lords of rugby, and don't be so uncouth.

Well, sorry to say, but New Zealand has been called out again. I do have some sympathy for the Chiefs, because they have taken the view, if you can't beat em, join em. Back in 2012 they got so fed up with Crusaders blockers that they warned Craig Joubert before their Super semi that they would be taking them out.

When the Chiefs started blasting through them, the likes of Sam Whitelock threw themselves to the ground as if they were re-enacting the death scene from Camille. Joubert took no notice. If you want to cheat, you can take the punishment, he seemed to imply. That's how it was in Meads' day and there is something to be said for it.

Happily on Tuesday night Garces and his fellow officials gave the best refereeing display of the tour and finally came down on cheating. Strangely enough the Lions then looked like they could play a bit. Rugby is an easier game when there isn't a nail strip stretched out in front of your wheels.

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