Owen Doyle: Referee selectors must be pulling their hair out
Angus Gardner did not affect the result but the breakdown was a Japanese free for all
Rhys Ruddock of Ireland talks to referee Angus Gardner during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Pool A match against Japan. Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
The matches are now coming along apace, as week one came to an end. Frustratingly, there was another disconnect between referee and TMO.
The delivery on foul play by the match officials cannot be blamed on the preparation of Team 21, but Alain Rolland and his selectors must be pulling their hair out at this stage.
But let’s start with the Irish match. We began with a bang but that was as good as it got. Japan were simply better, more passionate.
A most respectful ‘ojigi’ to them and their wonderful supporters.
Nothing referee Angus Gardner did or didn’t do affected the result. That’s important to state. No sour grapes here just humble pie.
However, it cannot be avoided that the breakdown was a Japanese free for all.
Joe Schmidt alluded to it in his post match interview.
Japan persistently put players past the breakdown, obstructing, holding onto, and taking out Irish players; and this gave them a lot of forward momentum.
I lost count of the number of times that the Irish poacher was taken out illegally. One of these upended Peter O’Mahony who was then penalised for going off his feet.
Ireland also benefitted from some inaccuracies, including an incorrect penalty when under pressure. At least one high tackle, by Chris Farrell, was not picked up.
Not quite a yellow card perhaps, but it could have been.
Japan had done the same in their match against Russia and I cannot but imagine that this was raised by the Irish management before the match. I can also imagine that they will now request “clarification” on these incidents around the breakdown – these clips will be taken from the match video and submitted to World Rugby for their response.
Now onto Samoa v Russia. There were two incidents, in quick succession, which saw the officials work slavishly – or so they thought – to the sanction framework.
Firstly, the Samoan player shouldered hard to the neck and head of Russian Vasily Artemeyev. Romaine Poite watched the replay, asked himself the correct questions. He was reaching for his red card, when TMO Graham Hughes unexpectedly intervened; stating succinctly that the Russian ball carrier was dipping. Perhaps he was, but only very slightly. It was a leading statement.
I can easily accept that this blew the referee off his course – Romain Poite then took another look and decided to apply mitigation, Hence yellow, instead of red.
Moments later, another Samoan assault, Artemeyev – the former Blackrock schoolboy – was again the recipient. He was steady in a semi-crouched position and the tackler knew exactly that, yet launched himself shoulder first leading into the head. Again mitigation, incorrectly, was applied.
Let me quote from the framework itself, one of the stated mitigating factors is: “ball carrier suddenly drops in height.”
Construing that to be the case in these two incidents is way beyond me.
It was way beyond the citing commissioner too. The judiciary agreed and has imposed three weeks suspension for both players.
Improvement was on the way in the shape of Australian Nic Berry. He has looked calm and organised in his two outings to date and was spot on in delivering the first red card of the tournament for a very bad and dangerous tackle on England’s Owen Farrell, by USA’s Irishman, John Quill. It looked deliberate rather than reckless, but the suspension is also three weeks.
England player Piers Francis was cited, and I’m not sure why the referee did not ask to see this on the screen as a USA player was injured in the tackle which was directly from the kick-off. It could be that the TMO had reviewed it and informed him no further action was necessary.
It didn’t look in the same category as the others, and the citing has since been dismissed.
Perhaps, though, when there’s an injury, every referee should wish to see it for himself?
David overcame Goliath once again with Uruguay beating Fiji in an epic match.
Referee Pascal Gauzere paid personal attention to the offside line and this helped in providing space. As the match developed along very unexpected lines, he reffed it as he saw it, without fear or favour - one cannot ask more.
Wales beat Australia in a cliff-hanging thriller, with the match officials faced with some very tricky calls. It was a massive challenge and - over the whole match - they come out of it pretty well. They will have a better night’s sleep.
Romain Poite and his TMO connected well, with Ben Skeen not leading their conversations which was important.
Of course, there are issues to review – there always are, and unsurprisingly Michael Cheika has raised them!
The outstanding query for me is that an Australian ball carrier forearm into the neck of tackler Rhys Patchell did not receive a card of any colour, after a fairly convoluted chat between referee and TMO.
Finally, Cheika’s comments, rantings even, on the citing and subsequent suspension of Reece Hodge were unacceptable, and brought the game into disrepute. Amongst other things he claimed that it’s “us against everyone else,” there was an option to appeal, but Cheika didn’t take it – he knew that it would have gone the wrong way.
There is a process for dealing with such comments, and, although he is stepping down after the competition, World Rugby should use it.
Owen Doyle is a former Test referee and former director of referees with the IRFU. He will be writing for The Irish Times throughout the World Cup