Owen Doyle: Clearout red cards will see the penny finally drop with players and coaches

Scotland’s Zander Fagerson the latest to head for an early shower for a reckless hit

Scotland’s Zander Fagerson reacts after being sent off by referee Matt Carley during the Six Nations game against Wales at Murrayfield. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Scotland’s Zander Fagerson reacts after being sent off by referee Matt Carley during the Six Nations game against Wales at Murrayfield. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

 

Ireland went close, but did they really? While Andy Farrell described the match as ‘one that got away’, I’m not so sure. To support his view, James Lowe came excruciatingly close to a corner-flag try, and Billy Burns’s early blocked tee-shot saw three points going astray.

But, inevitably, there is another side to that coin. The penalised tackle on Keith Earls, which led to an attacking Irish lineout, looked a harsh sanction, far from the required ‘clear and obvious’.

France pinched the throw, but poorly, which enabled an alert Rónan Kelleher to run in for a 7-pointer. Referee Luke Pearce did not seem interested in a full review of the lineout, and there remains a question if there was an Irish knock-on. The TMO is there for a purpose, and must surely be used to the fullest for pivotal try-scoring moments, as it was for Lowe’s ‘try’.

It’s hard not to think, if the match had taken place in a packed Stade de France, that the crowd pressure would have ‘persuaded’ the referee to examine matters in detail.

A strictly interpreted high tackle by France yielded another three points to Ireland; France also butchered a certain seven points when Paul Willemse contrived to head the ball dead with the tryline beckoning.

Pearce, mercifully, was less verbose than is his wont. He’s done well to brush up on his French, but we could usefully have heard a lot less from him in the final quarter. A work in progress.

Ireland’s Rónan Kelleher scores a try during the Six Nations game against France at the Aviva stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Ireland’s Rónan Kelleher scores a try during the Six Nations game against France at the Aviva stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ireland cannot be faulted for immense effort, and as the clock wound down they ferociously went through multiple phases, but nonetheless ended up losing metres. Their kicking game didn’t match the probing precision of the French, and – again in comparison – the Irish backs looked pretty static. Add in more poor defending, and there’s a lot of work to do.

But sort these out and there’s a good chance we can give England one heck of a battle when they come calling.

When Scotland’s Zander Fagerson headed for an early shower their supporters’ collective groan went high up the Richter scale. In a moment of crass stupidity he cocked his forearm and slammed into Wyn Jones’s head – referee Matt Carley examined the evidence and correctly produced a red card. Scottish disagreement holds no water whatsoever.

Fagerson had come from quite a distance, and had time to choose a different option; it makes it more difficult for the judicial panel to find mitigation, but no doubt it will.

These so-called clearouts are dangerous in the extreme, and referees – under clear instruction from World Rugby – will not tolerate them; that is the right, and only, approach. It’s not a difficult message for players and coaches to understand, they must get it soon.

It was epic rugby, pulsating from start to finish, with both teams very willing to move the ball wide. Carley said very little at the breakdown and players responded by moving away, and placing the ball quickly – fast ball provided. Penalties in this area, when they came, generally looked correct and logical.

The last 30 minutes were breathtaking, even neutrals were pulled into the swirling excitement of it all, the match ebbing and flowing at high pace.

Having been on Carley’s case before for non-stop, and player first-name, communication, it’s pleasing to say that he can be happy with his day’s work. Silence is golden.

Leigh Halfpenny will wonder what he did wrong when Darcy Graham jumped high for the ball clattering into Halfpenny’s tackle. The protocols dictated a penalty which was given, but difficult to see what else the Welsh fullback could have done. Maybe a more commonsense approach would have judged it as accidental. Not easy.

To make matters worse, Halfpenny came off much the worse for wear and wasn’t able to continue.

At Twickenham, England, mixing some good with some bad, never really went smoothly through the gears. They won, but that was always going to be result.

Italy had a good head of steam in the second half, but were undone by an intercept try from Anthony Watson. Preceded by an Owen Farrell late tackle it should have been chalked off. TMO Joy Neville brought it up for review but, astonishingly Mike Adamson saw nothing wrong.

They might want to take another look, it was at least a 10-point swing.

While Adamson didn’t alter the actual outcome, the quality of decision making was well below what was necessary particularly in the second half, when scrum calls also perplexed both teams. Italy can have legitimate complaints.

Further, the serious leg injury to England’s Jack Willis seemed caused by a clear offside ruck side-entry by Sebastian Negri. It wasn’t sanctioned.

England’s Jonny May dives over Luca Sperandio of Italy to score his side’s third try during the Six Nations match at Twickenham. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
England’s Jonny May dives over Luca Sperandio of Italy to score his side’s third try during the Six Nations match at Twickenham. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Johnny May’s spectacular leap to score was valid – it was not a dangerous jump into the tackler. But if May had been tackled into touch while airborne, how would it compare with the Halfpenny tackle, and would it be a penalty try? Clarification would be good.

May was also involved prior to an early England try, for a potential knock-on in the build-up. Poor camera work made it difficult to see, and play moved on for more than two phases thus preventing a TMO review. Neville might have called it immediately one way or the other, but only if she had clearer evidence than we were shown.

It’s a mightily well earned rest weekend now, and much midnight oil will be burned while the coaches select the starting Irish XV for Rome. That will be interesting; and how many of us will pick the same team?

Owen Doyle is a former Test referee and former director of referees with the IRFU.

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