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Owen Doyle: Evidence not conclusive enough to award Wales a penalty try against Ireland

In the Italy-France game, we saw the shot clock in all its mad glory when it denied the Azzurri a historic victory

For the second time in a row, Wales didn’t start playing until the game was up. Ireland, although distinctly not good, still eked out the bonus point. They now head into the final two matches with a perfect 15 points on the table. So, no matter how they played, we’d have bitten a few arms off for that at the outset of the championship.

Here’s hoping that a lot of powder was kept dry, that there was little point in showing the game plan to England and Scotland before it’s necessary. Ireland have more to offer than driving mauls and seeking out scrum penalties, the latter a disappointing tactic. Sure, we milled the Welsh scrummmage, but where’s the joy in that? It’s a waste of a great attacking platform, with acres of space for the backs to exploit, as we saw later in the afternoon in Murrayfield.

History was made with the arrival of referee Andrea Piardi, the first Italian in charge of a Six Nations match. He started off well, letting the game flow, rewarding good clean poaching and correctly penalising illegal protection of ruck ball.

As the match developed into the second half, however, the referee tightened up his approach, picking up marginal stuff that he could have ignored. And then there was the penalty try awarded to Wales.


A driving maul went over the Irish line, but it was impossible for Piardi to make any call on it. Wisely, he did not give an on-field decision, but called up the TMO, Frenchman Eric Gauzins, to get his view of things.

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While that was going on, assistant referee, Englishman Karl Dickson, was considering something else. So, the actions of Tadhg Beirne in the maul were parsed and analysed. It was hellishly tight, but the officials decided that Beirne had momentarily detached, and marginally moved up the side of the maul. Inevitably, it was all very forensic, and Piardi decided that a probable try had been prevented. It was a big, big call, and also a very tricky one.

The only basis for a penalty try would have been if it was absolutely clear and obvious that Beirne had wrapped up the ball, thus preventing the necessary grounding. My take on it is that the evidence was hardly conclusive enough to award seven points.

Considering that Piardi couldn’t see enough to make an on-field decision, either ball held up or try, a yellow card plus a penalty kick would have been the better option. I’d certainly not like to see a match decided on a similar decision, which, of course, this one was not.

The next referees for Ireland are Nika Amashukeli (v England) and Matthew Carley (v Scotland). They are very different personalities, and the interaction with them will be key for the Irish captain.

In Murrayfield, England were undone by their own mistake-laden ineptness, the guile of Finn Russell, and the three-try-flying Duhan van der Merwe. Referee Andy Brace can be quietly pleased with his day at the office, he did well.

Thankfully, he was much less talkative than usual, and took a stronger approach with the scrums, using sanctions rather than constant resets. Having said that, there were precious few completed scrums, but Brace cannot be blamed, although the use of the sin bin should come into play if players do not change behaviour. From one good scrum Scotland went wide at pace, sending Huw Jones haring through the English blitz defence, with van der Merwe on hand to take the scoring pass. That is proper use of the set-piece.

France are playing their matches outside Paris while the Stade de France is readied for the Olympics. This time they were in Lille, with Englishman Christophe Ridley becoming the second debutant of the weekend. He had a reasonable match, but will need to have a serious look at his management of the end-game. Before half-time a Jonathan Danty “head-on-head” dangerous tackle was sent to Ben Whitehouse in the bunker. There was never a chance that Danty would survive the inspection, correctly it was upgraded to red.

Quite some years ago, World Rugby introduced time limits for kicks at goal. Some kickers were taking an age to start their run up with, ironically, the current Italian coach, Argentinian Gonzalo Quesada, being a serial offender. He was affectionately nicknamed “Speedy Gonzalo” to reflect the amount of time he took. More recently, to reinforce the limits, rugby union imported the shot clock from league.

We saw it in all its mad glory when it denied Italy a historic victory. A penalty in the final moments was inevitably rushed by Paolo Garbisi after the ball had fallen off the tee, the kick eventually coming back off a post. France had illegally moved forward towards Garbisi before he kicked, and they had someone else on the pitch, maybe a water carrier, wandering around in front of him. So, Ridley should have awarded another kick, 10 metres farther on too. That’s the law.

Nevertheless, leaving the ref out of it, it’s difficult to believe that the shot clock was ever intended to allow such happenstance to have such impact – it was a crying shame.