Lions tour: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen bites his tongue on controversial late changed call
Steve Hansen had plenty he could have said. But the All Blacks coach reacted to his side's controversial drawn test, and series, against the British and Irish Lions with the mute button firmly depressed.
Hansen steadfastly refused to criticise the strange late decision by French referee Romain Poite that denied his All Blacks a dramatic late, series-clinching victory over the Lions. Sort of.
The experienced coach chose his words ultra-carefully in the post-match press conference after the third test at Eden Park had ended in a controversial 15-15 draw, leaving the series locked in a 1-1 stalemate which the All Blacks coach admitted was "a bit like kissing your sister".
A room packed full of rugby media from Britain, Ireland and New Zealand wanted to hear Hansen's view of Monsieur Poite's 78th-minute decision when he changed, under video review, a penalty to the All Blacks from a spot handy to the posts to a scrum for accidental offside.
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He had initially awarded a penalty when Lions hooker Ken Owens, from an offside position, played at a ball that came off fullback Liam Williams in the air. He was then persuaded to go to the TMO to review the call.
A perusal of rugby's complicated law book could probably find justification for either decision, though All Blacks skipper Kieran Read was more emphatic when he told TV interviewers after the match: "It's been an offside for a long time. I guess it turned into an accidental offside. We've just got to cop that."
The law that governs 'offside after a knock on' states: "When a player knocks-on and an offside team-mate next plays the ball, the offside player is liable to sanction if playing the ball prevented an opponent from gaining an advantage." The sanction is a penalty.
But there are other rules which give the referee different avenues he can take.
Hansen circumvented questions on the topic by starting with a statement on the late decision by Poite that will be disputed for many, many days to come. Likely longer.
"It's a tough game to referee," he said.
"We all know what happened and we all know probably what should have happened. But it's a game and as little kids we're taught to take the good with the bad, and we have to do that.
"That's all I want to talk about. If you ask me questions about that I'm not going to go there. We're accepting of whatever the decisions were made. Whether we agree with them or not is something we'll do our talking to the referees about."
But Hansen did revisit the topic one more time.
"You go back to the World Cup and the same thing happened and Scotland missed out (against Australia) because they didn't use the video. This time they used video and had a pow-wow. What would have been good was just play on and if we would have scored under the posts that would have been OK (centre Anton Lienert-Brown appeared to be in a position to score as play continued, before the referee's initial penalty call).
"But we didn't. His initial instincts were it was a penalty, he spoke to his team of three, and one of them suggested it was accidental.
"It's either offside or isn't offside, and if we all know it's offside then it's offside. But there are too many avenues you can go down. That not the ref's fault, it's the rulebook and people running the game need to ask themselves, do we need to make it simple? My answer to that would be yes."
Hansen did say, despite the frustrations around the drawn series, he was proud of his team, all things considered.
"We've had a few things not go our way, but we haven't quibbled, the boys have got on, worked hard, played hard and gave themselves a big chance tonight.
"We probably didn't score the points when we created the opportunities, so that's something for us to look back on."
Hansen said part of his team's inability to turn chances into tries had to be put down to the Lions' defence.
"Their defence is built right on the edge and they come with a lot of linespeed and we didn't cope with it in the manner you normally would. Plus there's a lot of pressure. It's a young backline. You're going to have nights when things don't go your way.
"What I'm proud of is the way [skipper Kieran Read] put the plan together and the way we went about executing it. We just didn't finalise it."
Read admitted it had been a frustrating end to his 100th test, and such a fabulous series against a quality Lions outfit.
"It's a bit of a hollow feeling, a draw," said the All Blacks captain. "We don't turn up on a Saturday and want a draw, or to lose. We want to go out and win.
"If you look back on this series, yep a draw is better than a loss, but right now it's mixed feelings. I'm proud to make 100 tests but would probably swap all of them for a win."
Hansen wasn't quite so despondent about the stalemate, and felt there should be no moves to remove a drawn series from the equation.
"Everyone is a bit hollow because of the last three minutes, but some really good rugby was played over three test matches, and maybe a drawn series was fair," he said.
"We played well in the first one, they played well in the second, and we probably did enough to win it [int he third] but they hung in, got a couple of breaks, and had some magnificent goalkicking.
"Rugby has always had a draw. It's not a World Cup final, it's a three-match series, and my own belief is probably leave it the way it is."