Owen Doyle: Reluctance of Wayne Barnes to consult TMO proves baffling

Coming appointments will see at least one of four high-profile referees miss out

 

Ireland’s sorry defeat to the All Blacks is covered really well here by others in this parish.

Joe Schmidt deserves immense plaudits for a terrific tenure studded with great success. But, truly, a golden age is over. Andy Farrell now has a different job on his hands than when he was appointed to succeed Schmidt.

He can count on the continued support of the wonderful fans who drowned out the haka with The Fields of Athenry.

Firstly, it is important to say that the match officials, overall, had a pretty good weekend at the office, one strange performance apart. The first two semi-finals were won by wide margins, so there was little focus on the referee.

Both winners had the advantage of an extra week’s rest. Having also benefitted from a break, France were evidently much the fresher team and let Wales off the hook as they only went down by a only a point having had a man sent off and been denied five points by the goalpost. The cancelled matches have sort of tarnished things.

If the referee selectors weren’t already scratching their heads, they’re scratching them now. The England v New Zealand semi-final appointment will prove a mighty headache.

From the start, I had Wayne Barnes and Jerome Garces in pole position. The weekend showed a lot of movement in that thinking.

Barnes may figure again, and he’ll need to be better than in Japan v South Africa. His refusal to check with the TMO on issues of foul play bordered on arrogance. The TMO is there for a reason, but Wayne decided he didn’t need him. Or was it an ill-conceived pre-match plan?

So, the Springbok prop Tendai Mtawarira got yellow for a spear tackle. Maybe that would have been the conclusion of a review, but maybe it would have been red.

Then Japan escaped a clear and obvious yellow card, with the referee deciding that he’d had clear sight of the incident. On replay, the only thing clear was that he hadn’t.

The TMO, fellow Englishman Rowan Kitt, did not advise Barnes that a review was a good idea, necessary, in each case. He should have. A disallowed try for South Africa, for being held in the tackle, could have been allowed and checked. In which case it looks like it would have stood.

On the foul plays it seemed a dereliction of duty by both referee and TMO, and there are questions to be asked, and answered.

First class

Garces in England v Australia produced a mixed bag. He seemed anxious, subjective I know; and the scrums were a total shambles, objective. His communication was not clear, and his indecisiveness led to continuous resets throughout the match, and took far too much time out of the match. He’ll review carefully his handling of the breakdown.

It was disappointing to see a significant amount of ‘sledging’ – front row players and others were involved. Tapping opponents on their heads when a scrum penalty was won. Or cheering – arms aloft – when an opponent knocked-on. The referee needs to get that cut out. It is not rugby, nor should it be allowed to become so.

TMO Skeen was quieter than he has been. One leading intervention was summarily contradicted by the referee. These guys must not lead, it is not their job.

In the Ireland v New Zealand game Nigel Owens was relaxed, assured, confidence itself. He went out with a plan and delivered it. His communication was first class. Nothing surprised him. His remonstration to Murray, “there’s a way of asking us”, and, at the same time, having it checked, showed experienced balance. Murray was right.

He did really well to dissect the long lead up to a NZ touch-down where there was no offside, and the try stood correctly. TMO Graham Hughes, without leading, advised well in this decision.

On one occasion, Nigel’s inoffensive finger wag was evidence of literal finger tip control.

Clearly, the players respect him, and accept his calls, as evidenced by the positive player-referee rapport.

Both Garces and Owens were guilty of missing a few important illegal ruck entries, for example Stockdale was blasted away in the moment before New Zealand’s final try.

These entries have been common in too many matches and we can only hope that one is not critical in the semis or final matches.

Jaco Peyper, in Wales v France, had another mixed performance, with several inconsistencies at the breakdown. Midfield offside was blatant and frequent.

France will rue the disallowed try by captain Guirado just before half-time, the referee deciding that a knock-on advantage was not over, despite Wales having unhindered possession and choosing to run.

Unprovoked violence

A ruck and several non-pressurised passes before the ball was intercepted. Had the ball gone to hand then Wales had the possibility of a length of the pitch run, maybe to score. Two bites of the cherry from a knock-on? Mmmm.

Let’s hope that we’re not starting to see knock-on advantages being treated the same way as penalty advantages.

France will rue more the shocking moment of unprovoked violence from their lock Vahaamahina, whose elbow into the face of Aaron Wainwright was an easy decision – red card.

It cost France the match. He was sorely missed, and it led to both an attacking and defending scrum being easily disrupted. The latter led to Wales’ winning score.

The coming appointments will see at least one of Barnes, Garces, Owens and Peyper missing out, as the tournament gets to the sharpest off sharp ends.

Competitive it is. By the time you read this, the appointments may well have been announced. The selectors will be meeting as this is written.

They must base their considerations only on merit, and not bring any emotional or other interests to their thinking.

The teams, the tournament deserve nothing less.

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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