Six Nations: Ireland have shown that avoiding red cards and dangerous hits is possible

Owen Doyle: Nika Amashukeli made of stern stuff as he expertly officiates difficult France-Scotland clash

Referee Nika Amashukeli shows Grant Gilchrist of Scotland a red card. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

The Carcere Regina Coeli, once a 17th-century convent, is Rome’s most famous prison. A bonus point win is a bonus point win, but there was a definite feeling that Ireland had got out of jail as the curtain came down on another exhilarating match.

Come Murrayfield in two weeks’ time a lot more will be needed. So too will Johnny Sexton and Garry Ringrose, as both were badly missed, Ireland’s 10-12-13 axis performing well below what we’d hoped.

In a match controlled by Scotsman Mike Adamson, the win probably came down to two key moments; one of cross-kick madness from Italian Juan Ignacio Brex who had three men outside screaming for him to pass, and one of brilliance from Conor Murray for Mack Hansen to score.

The referee started off well, looking comfortable, but as things became more hectic and competitive a few questions arose – overall his performance was in the “okay” category. It was unclear how many assistant referee and TMO calls he received, but one way or another, the outcomes around foul play were questionable.


There was a harsh penalty against Iain Henderson for an innocuous, marginal high tackle, followed later by Stuart McCloskey on Ange Capuozzo. This had yellow written all over it, but Adamson chose only a penalty. It should have seen the Irish centre serving 10 minutes in the old convent. That’s what we would have rightly demanded if it happened to an Irish player.

When Craig Casey was felled by a shoulder to the throat from Niccolo Cannone, Adamson might have decided that the Italian was holding his ground and it was therefore an accidental collision with no sanction. However, he rightly concluded that it was foul play, without applying the head contact protocols. It was a nasty outcome for Casey and a yellow card should have followed. Both camps, not unusually, will also have questions around the breakdown and several scrum calls, not easy areas.

In fear of the commentator’s curse it should only be whispered, but Ireland have avoided any dangerous collisions which would bring them close to red card territory over the first three rounds. It can be done.

Ireland's Stuart McCloskey. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Overall, their discipline was good with one concern which will not have gone unnoticed by the management. Andrew Porter is a valuable asset but must reduce his penalty count and he threw in a totally unnecessary off the ball takeout. He also needs to see how he can funnel his annoyance at decisions into something positive. A strong referee will come down hard on dissent and it could prove costly.

For the France v Scotland game, I’m going to run out of superlatives here: huge physicality, marvellous open play running, great tries, neither side giving a centimetre, all resulting in a breathtaking blockbuster. And, boy, it really needed refereeing. Nika Amashukeli again showed that he possesses all the ingredients to perform at the very top end – strong presence, composure under pressure, assured, only speaking when necessary. Factor in the highest degree of difficulty and those who saw his performance as the best so far in the championship are on the money.

This great occasion was marred by two violent head-high assaults, Grant Gilchrist and Mohamed Haouas both seeing red within the opening 12 minutes. There was a moment of concern when the referee initially misread Haouas’ disgraceful offence against Ben White but good officiating teamwork then ensured the right decision, with Amashukeli doing well to listen calmly and be open to the clarity he was given.

It’s impossible for the breakdown to be perfection, but Amashukeli laid down an early marker for both teams with a decisive sealing-off penalty and gave a similar one in the last few minutes – that’s consistency. Towards the end, not appreciative of Scottish dissent, he added 10 important metres to a penalty.

There was a strong element of happenstance around this fixture concerning a Scotsman, an Irishman and a Georgian. Paris, Parc des Princes, 1995: A young Gregor Townsend flips a remarkable backhanded pass to Gavin Hastings who, untouched, charges 40 metres for a momentous winning try against France. It was awarded by Irish referee David McHugh, whose performance that day, his first in the Five Nations, earned him a place at the World Cup which followed. It all happened 28 years ago. Remarkably, also 28 years ago, in faraway Tbilisi, Nika Amashukeli first saw the light of day.

Fast forward to last Sunday and Townsend was in charge of Scotland with McHugh coaching Amashukeli. The World Cup now certainly beckons for him too, just as it did for his mentor. What goes around comes around.

The match in Cardiff, by comparison with events in Rome and Paris, was pretty grim stuff. A boring kick-fest and whatever the merits were of England bringing on Marcus Smith with less than a minute left, they are beyond me. These matches can be tricky assignments to referee and little by little the breakdown became chaos. Mathieu Raynal’s star has waned somewhat over the past year, the constant grind of France’s Top 14 is not helpful.

Finally, a word about the performance of Scotswoman Hollie Davidson in Friday’s Ireland v Italy U20s. She was very good, unobtrusive and accurate in most things. The best referee in Scotland? Probably.