Owen Doyle: Scrum a major issue World Rugby must address

Authorities also need to double down on their High Tackle Framework strategy

Ireland v Georgia: The scrums were shambolic and referee Mathieu Raynal penalised incessantly, without ever changing player behaviour.  Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Ireland v Georgia: The scrums were shambolic and referee Mathieu Raynal penalised incessantly, without ever changing player behaviour. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

 

The Aviva Stadium saw a poor, grim performance by Ireland, way, way below their international Tier One status. Very hard to watch. Georgia can be more than satisfied with their effort, and scored the try of the match through Giorgi Kveseladze.

The scrums were shambolic, and referee Mathieu Raynal penalised incessantly, without ever changing player behaviour. Why not a yellow card for repeated offences?

The scrum presents World Rugby with a very major challenge to solve the problems which were all too evident throughout the weekend. It can’t be blamed on the officials.

The spectre of an incorrect philosophy on forward passes raised its ugly head again. Jacob Stockdale – what a mixed bag he produces – threw out two magnificent scoring passes.

Owen Doyle is a former Test referee and former director of referees with the IRFU. File photograph: Irishrugby.ie

The pass to Stuart McCloskey was made on the halfway line and the ball received beyond it. That is the principle of relative velocity - the ball will move forward because the passer is running forward. Did the ball leave his hands in a forward direction? Nope – so play on.

Had the scoring pass to Hugo Keenan been made on the 22, that try too would have been chalked off. Clear instructions must be given to the match officials not to use the white lines as a guide.

Despite always claiming the contrary, England absolutely hate crossing the Severn Bridge. Once again Wales gave of their best against the old enemy in what was a hard match, but it was a kick-fest of awful rugby.

Referee Romain Poite has had many better matches, and, in the first half there was a disconnect with TMO Brian McNiece.

First, the TMO suggested it was a Welsh knock-on before their try. On TV review Poite stuck with his original call of a charge down, and that was the correct decision.

Then, McNiece correctly advised a tackle in the air on Dan Biggar, prior to England’s opening try. Despite getting this information plus an enquiry from the Welsh captain, Poite, unwisely, did not review it, and awarded the try. The obvious move was to take another look before finalising such a big decision.

Coach Wayne Pivac has also complained about several scrum penalties, and he has a point. At least twice English props had their legs so far back that they just ‘pancaked’ to the deck, but the penalties went to England.

Later on a collapsed scrum became a brawl and Wales’ Tomas Francis was marched 10 metres for starting it. Sure he did, but the match officials needed to do so much better and pick up what looked very much like a headbutt by England’s Ellis Genge which had sparked things off.

Glittering career

France, eventually, easily beat Italy in a match which saw Nigel Owens become the first person to referee an astonishing 100 Test matches.

He had obviously prepared carefully with the assistance of his vastly experienced coach, Ireland’s David McHugh, and can be very pleased with his evening’s work. As the curtain starts to come down on a glittering career we should thank Owens for a wonderfully positive contribution to the game.

Many others can learn from him, and, especially in the current environment, how he has always put a very fast stop to back chat and player appeals.

Over to the Tri-Nations. Controlled, clinical, pure class, New Zealand swept Argentina away, 38 unanswered points included five converted tries.

Tyrel Lomax: the All Blacks was shown a yellow card against Argentina that should have been a red. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Tyrel Lomax: the All Blacks was shown a yellow card against Argentina that should have been a red. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Once again cards, yellow or red, will dominate discussions. Time was nearly up when All-Black Tyrel Lomax targeted Lucio Sordini who was on the ground. Deliberately going off his feet to do so, he struck with his forearm into his opponent’s head; it was yet another cowardly, cheap shot.

Referee Nic Berry, whose decisions (albeit correct) to give two red cards a fortnight ago copped a huge amount of flak from the media , and, I’ll hazard an educated guess, other quarters. He must have immediately felt under huge pressure.

Wrongly, but some would say understandably, he bowed to the pressure and constructed a mitigation due to the height-level of the Argentinian player; this should never have come into the equation. But yellow card it was, despite TMO Paul Williams offering Berry another “camera angle,” which was declined.

So, what on earth is going on, what is the position of World Rugby, and do they still hold firm to their own High Tackle Framework or do they not? We need and deserve an answer, and if they want framework change they need to write down that down, clearly. That will be interesting.

Protection of the neck and head is, to state the blindingly obvious, paramount. Nothing, but nothing, must weaken the resolve to do so. Players are not being forced to tackle below the waist, but simply to keep away from the head and neck area.

Red card

Those who don’t believe that these are red card offences never seem to mention safety or player welfare, and have forgotten the big fall-off in schoolboy participation in New Zealand, with one of the reasons given being fear of concussion. If this continues, other countries will certainly mirror this reduction in young player numbers, parents will not tolerate it.

Nobody knows what the effects of concussions, which are happening now, will be as time goes by. Other sports have seen cases of early dementia, including football which, it is reckoned, is the result of regularly heading the ball.

In America, the NFL has over 20,000 players diagnosed with concussion-related brain diseases.

Why should rugby be different?

Those who advocate allowing player actions which are clearly extremely dangerous may well have to answer for a lot.

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