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Owen Doyle: Not even South Africa could've resisted England's illegal scrum

Real question now for James Ryan is how many serious knocks to the head are enough

If England bothered with tackling practice, Charlie Ewels must have been absent for the lesson.

Mathieu Raynal had barely got proceedings under way when Ewels, with not a thought to technique, smashed head-to-head into James Ryan. It was an unequivocal red card, but what a terrible moment for the Irish player. He has accumulated a frightening number of brain injuries, and it was distressing to see him leave the field. There will be very real questions for Ryan and his medical advisers; top of the list is bound to be how many serious knocks to the head are enough.

And spare a sympathetic thought for the referee, despite his calm demeanour. A red card after 90 seconds is exactly what he would have wished not to happen. The jeering, booing reaction of the crowd to the decision clearly showed that Ewels isn’t alone in being off-message about blows to the brain.

There will now be the usual clamour for red-carded players to be replaced after 20 minutes, and it’s easy to see the arguments on that side of the fence. But to put an opponent out of the match for good, and threaten his career – in a team sport, there are very solid reasons why reducing to 14 permanently is the right answer. For a long time, very meaningful suspensions have been proposed in this column, rather than the paltry three weeks which is regularly handed down, and that would be a very persuasive part of the solution. But, please, don’t hold your breath, there’s little appetite for it.


To mix sporting metaphors, Ireland were bowled out at scrum time, with England doing their usual best to disrupt affairs and generate penalties

When England lost Tom Curry, it looked as if an Irish Cheltenham-style canter to the winning post was on the cards. But the home team then did something they have not done for quite some time. They found their Churchillian inner-bulldog, and took the game to Ireland. At times it seemed that they must have sneaked a 15th man back on as they produced a motivated, passionate, all-round team performance. It's not often that Eddie Jones will suffer a 15-32 defeat and be happy with what he saw, particularly in terms of spirit and togetherness.

That the result was up for grabs with less than 15 minutes left on the clock spoke volumes for their performance.

And what of Ireland? They can only be relieved that they did not suffer what would have been a morale-sapping defeat to 14 men. So they remain on course, but just. They also must look at the moments when they lost focus and became distracted – too many were chatting to the referee in that period.

Bowled out

To mix sporting metaphors, Ireland were bowled out at scrum time, with England doing their usual best to disrupt affairs and generate penalties. And they succeeded, Raynal deciding they were dominant and giving them exactly what they wanted, and – considering his reading of things – Ireland deserved a yellow card. But, in reality, a card would have been a travesty. Each scrum needs to be taken on its individual merits, and the referee should have taken a keen look at England’s behaviour.

One particular tactic is to get a slight nudge forward, continuing to move illegally at the engagement. Then Ellis Genge at loosehead, steps out and pushes across Tadgh Furlong; while Kyle Sinckler, on the far side, stops shoving. With the rest of the English pack following Genge around at speed, there isn't a scrum in the world which can resist that unlawful action, not even South Africa's.

Therefore, the problems were not always caused by Ireland, who are positive scrummagers, while England are notoriously destructive.

When England travel to France next weekend, the referee, Jaco Peyper, will have had plenty of notice, so maybe they'll be on their best behaviour. It's going to be interesting.

While we had the advantage of an extra man throughout, Iain Henderson was fortunate not to have been cooling his heels for 10 minutes following a ruck offence which cost three points. It could have been so much more expensive by equalising the numbers.

Armchair ride

Friday night in Cardiff, in total contrast, saw Mathew Carley given an armchair ride, with both France and Wales using the scrum for the reasons it was designed. He had a good match, speaking only when necessary and he got most of the big calls right. France have pulled off a real coup in recruiting defence expert Shaun Edwards. Their work rate and organisation is exceptional. And just once, when their line was breached, Jonathan Davies did a Stuart Hogg and obligingly dropped the ball.

As the final round of matches comes over the horizon on Saturday morning, Ireland will be fully focused on the only thing which they can control

Once again, concussion reared its ugly head, as it does with alarming regularity. First of all, prop Tomas Francis started for Wales having been seen to stagger around the place after a collision last time out against England. Francis was removed for a HIA for that incident before, bewilderingly, being returned to the fray. That whole matter is currently the subject of a Six Nations review, looking at the rights and wrongs of what happened.

We then witnessed yet another disturbing moment when Welsh scrumhalf Tomos Williams struck his head while going low in an attempt to halt France's Jonathan Danty. Like a boxer trying to struggle off the canvas to beat the count, Williams was in no condition to continue. While World Rugby's ludicrously short return-to-play protocols could see him playing next Saturday, perhaps player safety will prevail. It must.

In Rome, Italy managed their first tries of the tournament and still were well beaten by Scotland. Non-existent tackling and an intercept handed a lot of points to the visitors whose performance was adequate, but not much more.

By half-time, referee Luke Pearce had been quietly competent, but as the second half developed we were treated to overbearing non-stop communication. The simple solution was to turn off the sound; it worked wonders.

As the final round of matches comes over the horizon on Saturday morning, Ireland will be fully focused on the only thing which they can control – their performance against Scotland. Then, later in the evening, will we all really be cheering for England in Paris? Now, there’s a thought.