The roof was closed in Cardiff, but it made no difference to Ireland. Closed or open it wouldn’t have mattered a jot, a terrific Irish performance simply blew Wales away.
The home team did get up something resembling a head of steam in the second half but, in reality, Ireland were never in trouble.
Referee Karl Dickson was not, initially, as trigger happy as we’ve seen him, and Ireland had evidently prepared well for him.
Nevertheless, across the contest, there were four or five penalties he might well have ignored; with a total of 31 sanctions, the match could well have done without these.
Of far greater note was both the involvement, and non-involvement of TMO Tom Foley. It was nonsense that a Welsh knock-on in a tackle on Johnny Sexton was not picked up by any of the four officials. This omission could well have seen the score at 7-14, but for a marvellous intervention by Hugo Keenan; however Wales did come away with three points, their only score of the first half.
On about the hour mark, when Foley did see merit in intervening, it was a very strange one. Wales went left, hard down the short side, with George North in full support.
Bundee Aki and Conor Murray seemed static as the Welsh centre ran full tilt at them. Dickson whistled for a vital relieving penalty to Ireland, but then Foley called him up, advising that North had been tackled without the ball.
The referee took this report at face value and, without even a quick check on the screen, reversed his decision, thus turning the sanction into a vital attacking penalty; the danger was snuffed out by a brilliant James Ryan steal at the subsequent lineout, getting the referee off a serious hook.
[ ‘Just like watching the All Blacks in their pomp’: Welsh media reacts to Ireland win ]
We can all agree with World Rugby’s wish to reduce TMO referrals, but, nonetheless, it’s core purpose must not be diluted, as in the knock-on incident.
Nor must there be a transfer of power with the TMO becoming the de facto referee, as in the reversed penalty. How a referee can trust his TMO to make a crucial decision without checking for himself is beyond me. It’s hard to believe that is what is intended by the powers that be.
The annual Calcutta Cup match between England and Scotland can be a difficult assignment for any team of officials, particularly at Twickenham. I know, I reffed it, with England winning, largely thanks to a penalty try, which was, clear as daylight, the correct call – believe me. Would I fib?
There’s an extra bite to things with this magnificent trophy up for grabs, and England will be furious that the Scots have their name on it now three years in a row.
[ Hugo Keenan has made himself vital for Ireland in France clash ]
So, hats off to referee Paul Williams and his team of officials. The referee was very calm and hard to rattle – I’m sure he said, very pleasantly “well, we can agree to disagree,” when the Scots over-queried a particular decision. Good stuff.
Williams came with a definite breakdown plan, if the ball was available to be played, he said so, and was not interested in whether players had rolled away quickly enough or not when that was the case. Play on when at all possible seemed the order of the day, and that helped what had started as a kick-fest turn into a great contest.
In all three matches the team in possession was allowed, at will, to place their hands on the ground beyond the ball at the breakdown. It’s an inequitable application of law, and, worse, it’s leading to “caterpillar” rucks, extended by single players binding onto a team-mate in front of them, and to terribly slow ball which then leads to just more kicking. This must go onto World Rugby’s “to fix” list without delay, and certainly before the World Cup.
England were ponderously working their way out of defence with two of these successive rucks, each lasting all of 10 seconds or more (quick ball is around two seconds), before kicking the ball downfield. It went straight to Scotland’s Stuart Hogg whose fast pass found the flying Duhan Van der Merwe.
At high pace he shredded the English defence. Not since the days of the sublime and much-lamented David Duckham have we seen such majestic body swerving and side-stepping, over all of 60 metres – one of Twickenham’s great solo tries. It was a rich irony that the creation of slow ball was so thoroughly punished.
In Rome, Italy frightened a lethargic and ridiculously ill-disciplined French team who racked up the penalties, causing a hell of a lot of whistles.
While Matt Carley was completely right to tell France, before half-time, that a yellow card was on the way for persistent offending, he was also completely wrong not to deliver it.
It was pure farce that the clock was in the red when the referee told Les Bleus that discipline (a heady total of 18 sanctions) had to improve, Italy (seven sanctions) can rightly claim that was far too little, and far too late.
While France may seek clarity around some issues, coach Fabien Galthie will be fully aware that it’s Wayne Barnes on duty next week in Dublin. The championship is hotting up. Next weekend will tell a tale.