Owen Doyle: Debate required over scrum as a source of penalties kick chances

England can have no complaint with Garces as South African pressure game prevails

Who saw that coming? Not me, for starters.

The final produced a match that couldn’t really have been anticipated. England never got going, weren’t allowed to – South Africa dominated, pressurising all of England’s set pieces and restarts.

It was impossible not to be impressed by the comments of winning captain Siya Kolisi, and to hope that this World Cup can be a unifying force in South Africa.

Impossible too not to hope that rugby has more to offer than what we saw, particularly in the first half. It was an unedifying series of injuries and scrum penalties.

The scrum is the prescribed method of restarting the game with a contest for possession, following a minor infringement. It was never intended to be a source of creating penalty kick opportunities, and that’s a debate which is needed.

English prop Kyle Sinckler was knocked for six accidentally by teammate Mario Otoje. It was a significant very early loss. His replacement Dan Cole was always under severe pressure.

Time and time again England were pushed backwards, failing to lock out the scrum, and were penalised five times. The old adage that ‘forwards win matches and backs decide by how much’ was never truer.

South Africa hooker, Mbongeni Mbonambi, was also concussed, and did not return from his assessment. His teammate Lood de Jäger also retired for good with a bad and clearly very painful shoulder injury.

Sam Underhill then took a very hard tackle. He looked very unsteady and it was a surprise that he came out for the second half.

It was attritional, it didn’t look good.

The second half proved better as England seemed for a while that they might escape the stranglehold but they could not.

South Africa have now won three World Cup finals without conceding a try. Extraordinary.

They finished with two superb tries, albeit when England were on the ropes hoping to deliver a sucker punch.

It would be churlish of anyone to criticise referee Jerome Garces and England have no complaints. Nonetheless, a few issues are worth mentioning.

While the team that went forward in the scrum always got the penalty, there were two occasions when go-forward South Africa seemed at fault, yet were rewarded.

Great offloading

If England were always to blame, then there had to be at least a warning to them. None came.

That terrific scrumhalf, Faf de Klerk, was very fortunate to avoid ‘yellow’ following his second deliberate cynical offence.

Advantage was played ‘a la Garces,’ one lasting the guts of three minutes before reverting to the penalty, while another long scrum advantage did not revert. That’s another debate needed.

On a really positive note, neither of the semis nor the final saw the need for the high tackle sanction framework to come into play. We can at least hope that this could be the start of a change in technique – bending at the waist and tackling into the midriff.

Without anything like the ferocious intensity of a knock-out tie, the bronze medal match produced some pretty good rugby. It was enjoyable, a light starter before the very meaty main course.

Wales did their level best, and were clearly interested in winning it. New Zealand, though, really wanted it. Going home with nothing was not an option.

There was some great offloading, and this seemed helped by tackles going in lower. Ben Smith and Sam Cane were excellent, maybe Steve Hansen should have started them against England.

Thankfully, we got ‘Wayne Barnes-light’ – his communication was not overcooked. He’s a far better referee when in this mood.

However, New Zealand gave away a lot of ‘under pressure’ penalties in the first half hour and no sign of a yellow card. They push the boundaries and too often get away with it.

Barnes has been mixed – either very good, or not so good at all. His refereeing of the quarter-final between Japan and South Africa remains inexplicable.

At the outset of the tournament Barnes and Garces were the clear front runners followed by Peyper and Owens, probably in that order.

My pecking order would now be Owens, Garces, Peyper, Barnes, based purely on performances in Japan, and not on perceived reputation.

It’s very hard to place Owens elsewhere – he reffed very well throughout. In the England v New Zealand game he was simply excellent.

He has been coached in recent years by Irishman David McHugh, himself no stranger to top flight refereeing. Both will be pleased.

Also, happily, two of the newer generation, Australian Nic Berry and New Zealander Ben O'Keefe had very positive performances;, they leave for home with enhanced reputations.

The appointments for the Six Nations will be of great interest.

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