History in the making: Gareth Edwards celebrates a try awarded by Max Baise during the 1974 Lions tour, which saw the tourists' winning streak ended in the final game Allsport

IT remains the quintessential non-try in rugby history. A tearaway Irish openside with a bit more hair than he has today, a South African referee, and the 1974 Lions' quest for sporting immortality.

Even now, 35 years after Fergus Slattery appeared to ground the ball in the dying minutes of the fourth and final test in Johannesburg for a try which would have given the Lions a perfect tour record of 22 wins from 22 games, the debate still simmers. Try or no try?

The ref, Max Baise, is adamant to this day that he was right not to award Slattery the try, however, as Baise was leaving the pitch he claims the Lions out-half Phil Bennett called him an "effing cheat".

The game ended 13-13, and Willie John McBride's legendary squad missed out on an achievement for the ages. The Springboks went back to the drawing board with just a smidgeon of respectability after a series which punctured their machismo, and while the dominant Lions left undefeated but bitterly disappointed that their hopes of a 100-per cent record had been taken away.

The series also marked the end of any more accusations of home-town officiating. All test matches between South Africa and the Lions since that controversial finish at Ellis Park have been whistled by neutral refs.

So, from a Lions' perspective, Baise has endured as the villain of the piece. As the demoralised Springboks had lost all three previous games, having failed to score a single try, it was felt that the South African ref might've been got at in order to prevent the home team's ultimate humiliation.

"There was definitely no pressure put on me in order that the Springboks would get a result," Baise says. "All that was mentioned was that the Boks were worried that Gareth Edwards didn't put the ball into the scrums immediately. They didn't want the put-in delayed because they were having a really hard time. That was all that was said, they didn't try to influence me."

Baise, a retired former drinks company rep and hotelier, keeps his hand in with the off-licence he owns on the Garden Route about 150 miles from Cape Town. He turned 77 last week and remembers the events of 27 July 1974 as if it was yesterday.

"The Lions had a line-out, they moved the ball, JPR [Williams] came into the backline, and by that time I'd got myself into the in-goal area so that play could come to me. JPR passed to Slattery, he drove for the line, and I could see that he put the ball on Peter Cronje's [the Springbok centre] legs. I waited, and I blew my whistle and gave a five-yard scrum to the Lions. That was the law then. If the attacking side brought a ball into the in-goal area and it became unplayable, they were awarded the five-yard scrum.

"If Slattery had dotted down after I'd turned my back, then it might've been possible. But as far as I'm concerned, and I've got no sleepless nights about this, I wouldn't even have gone upstairs to the TMO if I'd had that option because I was so sure it wasn't a try."

At the final whistle, Bennett was the only Lions' player who approached him with his accusation, but it was later reported after the stalemate that Baise had said to the tourists, "Look boys, I have to live here".

"That's not true, that's a load of bullshit," he insists. "I never said that, and I never said I was unsighted for the Slattery try either. I swear to you on my own bible."

But the fierce criticism of Baise's decision-making wasn't coming from one direction only. Earlier in the game, he had mistakenly awarded a try to the Lions flanker Roger Uttley, and now he was getting it in the neck from the South Africans as well. "Gareth Edwards was obstructing my view, and when I gave the try I said to myself, 'You're in trouble now'. I hated to make a mistake in a test match or in any game for that matter, but unfortunately, I awarded the try. I know the people who run Ellis Park and I've asked them that when I die I want some of ashes scattered on the spot where Uttley scored. I'm very serious about that. It's the sore point of my career as a referee and I still feel bad about it to this day."

He was so down – because of the Uttley mistake and not the Slattery decision – that he couldn't bring himself to attend the after-match dinner, and later he heard that the godfather of South African rugby, Danie Craven, had said he would never be allowed to ref another test. And Baise never did.

This Friday, on the eve of the final test in the current series, the events of '74 will be mulled over yet again at a function in Johannesburg where Slattery and Baise will meet for the first time in 35 years. Slattery, for his part, remains enigmatic about his disallowed try, perhaps wanting to keep the speculation alive rather than saying anything definitive about whether he grounded the ball or not.

But did he score or did Baise make the right call? Slattery pauses. "Look, a policeman wouldn't ask me that," he says.

Baise is hoping to finally set the past straight when he at last gets to talk to Slattery. "I regret the Uttley try, but not the Slattery decision. I know I was right. The 1974 Lions were not cheated out of their 100 per cent record."