Six Nations talking points: Officials let Italy down against England

HIA’s adding up at an alarming rate; Ireland’s set-piece starting to fire once again

Tempers flare during England’s win over Italy at Twickenham. Photograph: Andrew Fosker/Inpho

Tempers flare during England’s win over Italy at Twickenham. Photograph: Andrew Fosker/Inpho

 

Officials short change Italy at Twickenham

Italy had reason to be incandescent following a slew of officiating decisions that went against them incorrectly in the 41-18 defeat to England at Twickenham. There’s an argument that at least two and possibly three of the home side’s tries should have been chalked off for offences in the build-up and that forward passes, knocks-on and crooked throws also went unpunished.

Nigel Owens in his newspaper column referenced one decision in which he pointed out that Owen Farrell should have been penalised for a late hit on Italian scrumhalf Stephen Varney in the build-up to Anthony Watson’s second-half try. No one expects perfection, officials are entitled to make the odd error the same as players, but there were simply too many at Twickenham and there has to be accountability.

No debating Fagerson’s red

Zander Fagerson’s red card in Wales’ 25-24 victory over Scotland polarised opinion with the ‘game’s gone soft merchants,’ out in force to argue that it should have been yellow or not a card at all. He was sent off for charging into a ruck, tucking his elbow, not binding on a player and with his shoulder making contact with the neck/jaw/head area of Welsh prop Wyn Jones, which contravenes Law 9.2.

Zander Fagerson is shown a red card during Scotland’s narrow defeat to Wales. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty
Zander Fagerson is shown a red card during Scotland’s narrow defeat to Wales. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty

Former Scottish captain and flanker John Barclay commentating for the BBC didn’t agree with the decision, suggesting that while dangerous it should have been a yellow card. He also stated: “I’m all for protecting the players, where is he (Fagerson) meant to put his shoulder?” Not where he put it. Pundits need to cop onto what’s permitted/acceptable now.

HIA’s mount at an alarming rate

James Ryan, Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw, Johnny Williams, Hallam Amos, Johan Meyer, Blade Thompson, Leigh Halfpenny, Danilo Fisichetti and Juan Ignacio Brex underline the frightening number of players who have had to undergo Head Injury Assessment (HIA) during matches in this season’s Six Nations Championship so far.

On Sunday at the Aviva Stadium Billy Burns (who failed a HIA) and presumably Ireland captain Iain Henderson and Cian Healy, who went off with blood injuries following a head collision but one presumes would have been quickly checked for any cognitive impairment, add further to the number of brain injuries that simply can’t be acceptable to World Rugby. The game the way it is played, coached and officiated has to change.

Kicking game helps France put the boot in

France won the kicking exchanges at the Aviva Stadium and therefore were able to shape the game in their favour at crucial moments. The visitors, through halfbacks Antoine Dupont, Mathieu Jalibert and fullback Brice Dulin in particular, kicked the ball long secure in the knowledge that Ireland would generally kick it back.

Brice Dulin contests with Garry Ringrose during France’s win over Ireland. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Brice Dulin contests with Garry Ringrose during France’s win over Ireland. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

A problem for Ireland was that France invariably won these kicking duels and this both turned pressure back on Ireland and gave them significant territorial gains. The fact that Irish players sliced several clearances didn’t help but overall the French were better in this facet of the game and it was a productive asset for them.

Ireland’s set-piece working smoothly

Ireland’s set-piece work was excellent, both scrum and lineout. Rhys Ruddock and Tadhg Beirne managed to pilfer the first couple of throws and this sent the French lineout into panic mode to the point where they were forced into a long throw over the back close to their own line that was almost picked up or at least redirected by Ireland captain Iain Henderson.

A huge positive was that Ireland were able to throw where they wanted and while they did concede a couple of lineout penalties - one a little harshly for what would normally have been adjudicated a fair contest - the put the French under huge pressure. Paul O’Connell and John Fogarty (scrum) deserve credit along with the players.

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