Of the 31 men on the pitch, none are more important than the man with the whistle. As we look forward to the second test this Saturday, we take a break from picking apart selection antics, controversy, and tactics to concentrate on the man in the middle.
Saturday’s test match will see Jerome Garcés take charge for the 28th time in his career. Like the players he’ll command he’s part of one of the best teams in the world. The three elite test referees Peyper, Garcés and Poite form a trio, rotating the roles of touch judge and referee.
In doing so they aim to maintain a constant theatre in which the game can be played. After all, the refereeing should have as little impact on the game as possible. That being said, just as the Lions and the All Blacks have their respective styles, so too do the team of referees.
We’ve already seen Garcés in action once on tour, in charge when the Lions met the Chiefs. Giving a perfect chance for the Lions to learn and prepare, and for the All Blacks to analyse.
What both teams will have certainly seen is Garcés’ marked authority on the game. Within the first twenty minutes we saw a yellow card issued to Joe Marler, and in our video we hear a sharp double blast of the whistle, clearly showing Garcés asserting himself.
This assertive calling is a feature of Garces’ style. The Frenchman is never shy of letting the players know who’s boss. His dialogue is often very limited, so when he speaks it’s for a reason. Expect him to make the big calls early and take charge of the game from the off.
In taking charge of the game Garces will hopefully display his excellent on field awareness. Watch in our video as he calls “Advantage Is Over” before Fisiihoi barrels into the Lions’ line. This gives us a perfect glimpse into his technical understanding and ability to use it to keep the game moving.
To the letter of the law, a team must “gain positional or tactical advantage” before Garces can call as he does. Here Garces identifies the runner, and the gap in front of him on the fly and calls an end to advantage in anticipation of the break, rather than in reaction to it.
This pre-emptive calling allows the Chiefs to approach the ensuing ruck in the knowledge that advantage is over, rather than being told so at the base, making it much easier to play the next phase accordingly.
While he called an end to the Chiefs’ penalty advantage, Garces certainly didn’t call an end to the advantage the Lions had throughout the pack. He exhibited in Hamilton another key aspect to his style, his tendency to reward dominance.
In our next clip we see the Lions maul a line out towards the try line from close range. Notably, this came after a consistent period of dominance from the Lions at both ruck time and in set piece play.
When they approach the line, Garces holds his hand out for a maul penalty advantage, and gives the Lions every opportunity to score, but when Henderson is held up he heads straight for the posts. This is nothing new as he often rewards teams that dominate games with favourable calls. He’s known for it at scrum time, so don’t be surprised if he seems to swing calls towards one side if they’re on top overall.
One way he delivers this reward and also shows the assertive nature we saw earlier is through the sin bin. We saw two yellows in the Chiefs game, and given his history, if the game warrants it he won’t hesitate to brandish more on Saturday.
Our final clip illustrates the fluidity of play all referees on tour have been adamantly upholding when possible. The speed of games has sometimes upset the Lions, but we learned in the first Test and from this try against the Chiefs that they can certainly move the ball.
If we look at Dan Cole, standing just to the right of the left post, we see him consciously continue his leisurely walk as if he didn’t have Liam Williams motoring towards him. In doing this he gives no grounds for an obstruction call, but lets Williams intelligently use him as a barrier to create the space he runs into.
In another time, perhaps this would be considered a professional foul. On this tour however the referees have looked to keep the game flowing as much as possible, the players on all sides can see it, and they’re adapting accordingly. Garces will continue the trend on Saturday, and will aim to provide a stable platform for fluid rugby.
This Saturday Garces will hope to have as little an effect as possible on the outcome of the second test. The All Blacks and the Lions however, they’ll hope to play in response to what we’ve seen so far, and gain that edge they’re both looking for.
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