Another page has been written in the legend of Romaine Poite.
The former French policeman turned professional whistle blower has never been afraid to make the strange call.
As Nick Turnbull put it for Rugby Pass last week, prior to the Wallabies vs Wales match, Poite is a “man not afraid of making the decision he sees as correct despite the occasion.”
In the past he has yellow carded Richie McCaw at Eden Park, overturned his own decision in a British and Irish lion’s match and sent Ben Alexander form the field in match that essentially ended his career.
And now, at a turning point for the way Rugby is refereed, in the shadow of a comments from World Rugby that the “match officials team recognise that performances [have] not consistently of the standards set by World Rugby and themselves,” Poite was handed the whistle in the biggest match of Pool C.
What resulted was a 55-minute first half, marred by a penalty given against a steaming Samu Kerevi for running over an out of position Rhys Patchell that was called back almost 5 minutes after it occurred by the TMO. That plus a blatant missed offside by both TMO and Poite that resulted in a intercept try for the Welsh.
All of that said, the Wallabies were not the team they needed to be to beat a clinical Welsh side that formed the context of the match. The context that provided the situations for Poite to perform poorly.
They took the points that were on offer, including a drop-goal from starting fly-half Dan Biggar 40-seconds into the match. Biggar was clearly the best on ground in his 28-minutes on the pitch, assisting on the first Welsh try with a pin-point cross-kick to Hadleigh Parkes as well as knocking over the conversion. Sadly for Biggar (and luckily for the Wallabies) Biggar was forced from the field for a head check after making an essentially try-saving tackle on Samu Kerevi. He would not return.
In Biggar’s place, Rhys Patchell performed valiantly as a playmaker and kickied everything he was asked to, picking up three penalties, a drop-goal and a conversion.
For the Wallabies, the questions at the halves continue. Genia looked solid but tired quickly. It was his pass that was intercepted for the try. Foley again looked past his prime, and after leaving the field in the 44th minute, looks set to lose his spot to Toomua, who steadied the ship in the second half. Lealiifano wasn’t overwhelmingly missed, but that speaks to the malaise at fly-half more than it does to the skills of his replacements.
Positive takeaways for the Wallabies can all be found in the second half. The scrum performed well, and the forwards dominated in the ruck and maul. So much so that Poite probably should have reached for his pocket after four penalties in the Welsh defensive 22. In the backline, Dane Haylett-Petty looked (dare I say it) Izzy-ish and dangerous from the back. Adam Ashley-Cooper looked his ever-youthful self.
The Wallabies will now have to put away Georgia and Uruguay and look forward to what is almost certainly a quarter final encounter with England, who have looked good but haven’t played any real quality opposition. The answers to that matchup will lie upfront, where Australia did exceptionally last night, and in the centres, where the Wallabies have looked fine, but the English have looked fantastic. England has beaten Australia in all of the six matches they have played since Eddies Jones took the reins.