Romain Poite has spoken candidly about his refereeing career, while openly acknowledging errors made when yellow-carding Bismarck du Plessis in 2013, and during the third Test between the B&I Lions and New Zealand.
Poite, who has polarised opinion and been at the heart of some controversial refereeing decisions, has opened up to Rugby Pass about his philosophy on the sport.
“I like equity and justice. It was a big honour to find something wrong that happened and help people in a society which is sometimes unbalanced.
“Like on the field, as a policeman we try to give the opportunity to everyone to understand life and be comfortable. Sometimes we found the solution, but sometimes we had to send them to jail. The main thing was to keep in your mind not to judge someone. You see the problem, you connect with the law, you resolve the problem.”
Poite freely admits that he has made mistakes in his career, but insists that is simply unavoidable.
“The main thing for a referee is to leave the field with no calls about the refereeing. Unfortunately, we have weaknesses. We do some things good and some things wrong. We work on what we did wrong to improve and to respect people.”
South African fans will remember Poite for showing Bismarck du Plessis a yellow card for a legal tackle on Dan Carter in a high-stakes match during the Rugby Championship.
Poite recalls the fallout from that game which involved South African fans petitioning that he never referee another Test and a cartoon appearing of him being decapitated.
“In 2013, New Zealand vs South Africa, I did wrong with the first yellow card. Unfortunately, afterwards I had to send off Bismarck du Plessis because of a wrong decision.
“That was an amazing game; I watched many, many New Zealand-South Africa games in the Rugby Championship and it was like a final for me. I was very proud to get the appointment.
“The appointment is good when you do well, but that was a bad one. I support myself; the main thing was my elder daughter was on Facebook, she saw me, they cut my head, something like that. It was more about my family. I just worked on my game, worked on my job, worked on what went wrong and what I had to improve, and I did it.”
The other moment that Poite feels will forever haunt him, is his decision to not award a penalty in the final Test of the 2017 Lions series. Hooker Ken Owens played the ball in an offside position but Poite deemed it to have been accidental and so awarded New Zealand a scrum and not a shot at goal to win the series.
Poite recognises that the decision was incorrect, but says even World Rugby supported his making it.
“Many people rung me after the game and told me, ‘That was a mistake, but it was justice, the right decision to make’.
“Even the World Rugby staff management gave me this call. But I said that I am paid to make a big decision at the end of the game. That was my concern.”
Nevertheless, Poite’s decision once again placed him in the spotlight and the Frenchman admits that he regrets having made it.
“I can promise you when I went back to the changing room, I destroyed everything, because I was angry against me. I felt the refereeing in this tour, 2017, was great. And what will we remember? Just the last decision of the tour.
“I was angry about me, because I destroyed the feelings of everyone about the refereeing overall. It’s a group, it’s a team, it’s a family. In my view, I did wrong for the others. I support my mistake; I am happy to say I did a mistake because I am human.”