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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Referee’s view: England’s inexperienced front row got lucky in the scrum… the Springboks were hard done by

From the first three scrums on Saturday, it was clear that England wanted to box clever and I thought they were slightly fortunate.

At the first, Andrew Brace awarded them a free-kick for an early engagement. I thought it was difficult to say for sure that South Africa were leaning in any more than England were. I understood his decision but might have ordered a re-set instead. England then asked for another put-in, and got a penalty for the same offence.     

Teams are going to use all the tricks in the book to try and get set-piece parity. I have been in pre-game meetings where teams have asked me to watch out for their opponents going early at the scrum. Then they have done exactly that themselves.

Unless you are alert, you do not notice it because you are not focused on the team that brought it to your attention. A lot of things go on in the scrum, and Saturday afternoon was no exception.

Later on, when the Springboks conceded another penalty at a put-in five metres from the England try-line, I thought they were hard done by. To me, it was Bevan Rodd that clearly hinged and pulled the scrum down rather than Ox Nche.

A good indication for anyone watching is when you see the loosehead prop’s elbow pointing to the ground, and they are pulling their opposite man’s jersey, it is quite clear that they are causing the collapse. 

People might say that Nche’s feet were too far back. In my opinion, Nche, the South Africa tighthead, was still able to stay up from that position and would not have gone to ground without Rodd pulling down. In any case, why would the Springboks be giving away a penalty in that area of the field? I thought England got away with one there.

Charlie Ewels could easily have seen a yellow card for his high tackle on Eben Etzebeth, too. Although there was no doubt that Etzebeth was falling, which presents mitigation, it was definitely head shot with a swinging arm. That has to constitute foul play.

From there, it becomes a question of whether you take a red down to a yellow or a yellow down to a penalty. It reminded me of the yellow card that Nepo Laulala, the New Zealand prop, was given against Wales. He caught Ross Moriarty with a swinging arm to the head after Ethan Blackadder had made the initial tackle on Moriarty. They were similar offences. If we are looking for consistency, Ewels should perhaps have gone to the bin.

Siya Kolisi’s yellow was a fair call. He was going for the ball but was nowhere near getting it and wrapped his arms around Joe Marchant, who was the player in the air. He got his timing wrong and can have no arguments with a yellow card.

The end of the game, leading up to Marcus Smith’s match-winning kick, was really interesting. Andrew was playing advantage for Herschel Jantjies going off his feet, which I thought was debatable – and a big call to make at that stage of the game.

But then Francois Steyn’s offence was straightforward. He came in on his knees and could have been given another yellow card.


Gareth Thomas incident shows the issues referees face over head contact punishments

I want to talk about Wales’ win over Australia because it showed how World Rugby needs to be mindful of the bigger picture as far as head contact.

Rob Valetini was red-carded for a high tackle on Adam Beard in the first half and I do not think he can have too many complaints. Again, as I said last week, I do not understand why players are still going in to make tackles in an upright position like that.

But then I thought Wales were very lucky that Gareth Thomas, the replacement prop, did not get sent off as well for his clear-out. It looked the same as Peter O’Mahony’s red card against Wales in the Six Nations last season, albeit perhaps with less force.

Let’s compare the two incidents. Valetini’s was accidental, but the red card was correct. Thomas’ foul play was obviously intentional. He dived on a prone player nowhere near the ball, which is an offence in itself, and swung his arm into an opponent’s head.

I can agree with a yellow card that Mike Adamson gave here because the degree of force was not particularly high. However, it was totally avoidable. For that reason, I would have gone with red.

How can it be right to give a yellow for something deliberate and a red for a total accident? We need to look at this because something is not right and it is a real issue in the game.

Nigel Owens is an ambassador for the wellbeing and experiences company hasta World www.hastaworld.com

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