Owen Doyle: Referees step up to the plate at Rugby World Cup semi-finals

It’s a straight choice between Nigel Owens and Jérôme Garcès to referee the final

Referee Jérôme Garcès talks to Welsh captain Alun-Wyn Jones    during the Rugby World Cup  semi-final match between South Africa and Wales at the International Stadium Yokohama on Sunday. Photograph:  Mark R Cristino/EPA

Referee Jérôme Garcès talks to Welsh captain Alun-Wyn Jones during the Rugby World Cup semi-final match between South Africa and Wales at the International Stadium Yokohama on Sunday. Photograph: Mark R Cristino/EPA

 

Epic. A game for the ages.

England fairly thrashed New Zealand, and Eddie Jones won the battle of the coaches. Steve Hansen had no excuses, didn’t invent any, and was very gracious in his post-match comments.

The England V for Victory formation imitated the shape of the haka. It turned out to be prophetic.

The 19-7 scoreline was perhaps misleading, and England could argue that they scored all the points, a calamitous line-out system failure “creating” the New Zealand try. It was the nearest thing to an own goal that rugby can produce.

The England defence was outstanding, their tackling was hard and at midriff level. Not one high tackle in the match. So it can be done, and very effectively.

On many occasions the timing, the strength and the momentum of the tackle forced the ball carrier backwards, giving poor possession. Or, there were valuable turnovers.

The importance of no high tackles, and no cards, cannot be overstated – particularly as it was achieved when the stakes were in the stratosphere.

The teams, the coaches and the referee deserve immense credit. Others must note, learn and follow.

Referee Nigel Owens has a word with New Zealand captain Kieran Read during the Rugby World Cup semi-final match against England and the All Blacks at International Stadium Yokohama on Saturday. Photograph: Hannah Peters/Getty Images
Referee Nigel Owens has a word with New Zealand captain Kieran Read during the Rugby World Cup semi-final match against England and the All Blacks at International Stadium Yokohama on Saturday. Photograph: Hannah Peters/Getty Images
Owens’s communication to Kieran Read in relation to repeated infringement was timely and well delivered

Nigel Owens brought all his vast experience into this match and it was needed. He was prepared to let the players play: the first penalty came in the ninth minute, and the first scrum in the 19th.

He facilitated a wonderful game, and it was never about him. Owens is closing in on 100 Test matches, quite extraordinary – who’d bet against him getting there?

Breakdown penalties

Both teams will look at breakdown penalties which they didn’t get, and one or two which may well have gone the other way. But nothing outside what could be termed a “normal error” count.

Owens addressed early “sledging” with “that’s a penalty next time”. The players knew it would be, and it stopped.

Owens’s communication to Kieran Read in relation to repeated infringement was timely and well delivered. It brooked no argument, and none came.

The TMO intervened twice when England had touched down; both times the try was disallowed.

The first, in minute 25, was for a dummy runner who was not in a position to take the pass. It could be argued that the defender, Sam Whitlock, was committed to tackling the runner. But, on balance, it was the right call.

There must now be serious discussion as to whether this level of forensics is appropriate

Next, in the 43rd minute, the ball seemed to be dropped in the maul by England and a forensic review followed, enabled only by the sophistication of the Hawkeye system which had over 30 cameras covering the match. But, did the ball actually go forward?

On first replay I thought, “yes, that’s forward.” Now I’m not so certain. It was a tricky call in a two-dimensional replay.

There must now be serious discussion as to whether this level of forensics is appropriate. What’s next – high-density magnification, microchipped ball, graphics-only information?

Just because something is possible does not make it a good idea. The game does not need, and is not it suited to, “inch-based” microscopic decisions.

World Rugby must call halt.

Yesterday saw the second semi-final, Wales against South Africa.

Not epic. Awful.

Totally turgid affair

Having watched it, you probably won’t be too interested in reading about it. For well into the second half we had a totally turgid affair. No-risk rugby, endless kicking and seemingly no ambition to win. And it’s a semi-final?

Then, on 56 minutes Handré Pollard made the first real break of the match, they recycled, went wide, try.

For Jérôme Garcès it was not an easy match to referee, and the scrums again caused problems

This motivated Wales to lift their game, and they responded with a try of their own, having gone through 20 pick and drive phases.

Taking a brave penalty option of a scrum, they got the ball away under pressure, but their number eight appeared to have switched position. The try stood, scored in the corner, and was brilliantly converted, bringing it to 16-16.

A late penalty to South Africa, and that was that – nothing to write home about.

For Jérôme Garcès it was not an easy match to referee, and the scrums again caused problems. South Africa were not as dominant as it seemed, as they bought a couple of penalties by illegally whipping the scrum around on their own put-in.

Wales protected their own lineout ball, particularly in the first half, by throwing straight down their own side. It’s an important, but easy, issue to correct; strangely, the officials seemed unaware.

So, it’s England v South Africa next Saturday, England’s to lose?

For the final referee it’s a straight choice now between Garcès and Owens.

The decision must be made on merit, and which of these two is the most accurate. While Owens reffed the final in 2015, that should not count against him, particularly given that there are only two contenders.

Whoever is appointed, it’s the ultimate honour.

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

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