Three close calls are key for Ir­ish – and the of­fi­cials get them all right

Ref­eree Gard­ner and TMO Skeen com­bine per­fectly to get all the big de­ci­sions spot on

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Natwest Six Nations - JONATHAN KA­PLAN

There were three very close calls in the first half at Twick­en­ham yes­ter­day and all of them went in Ire­land’s favour. On the face of it you might think that would give Eng­land rea­son to be up­set but hav­ing an­a­lysed them I don’t think An­gus Gard­ner, the ref­eree, and TMO Ben Skeen got any of the de­ci­sions wrong.

Pos­si­bly the most con­tentious was the first, when Garry Rin­grose touched down af­ter the ball bounced free fol­low­ing an aerial chal­lenge be­tween An­thony Wat­son and Rob Kear­ney. Eng­land thought the lat­ter had knocked on be­fore his team-mate scored but Skeen dis­counted and cor­rectly ruled the ground­ing was fine.

I thought Skeen – who I rate as the best TMO in the world – did so a lit­tle too quickly, and I would cer­tainly have checked more an­gles be­fore pro­ceed­ing to the ground­ing. But I have watched it back a dozen times and I can­not say with any cer­tainty there was a knock-on. To rule out the try there must have been a clear in­fringe­ment and I do not be­lieve there was, so the try was right to stand.

There was cer­tainly an in­fringe­ment when Bundee Aki con­ceded a penalty for his chal­lenge on El­liot Daly. The Ir­ish cen­tre tucked his el­bow into his ribs as he went in for the tackle, mean­ing he led with his shoul­der. That is some­thing World Rugby are try­ing to stamp out and an­other ref­eree may have given Aki a yel­low card. Gard­ner de­cided it was just un­der that thresh­old. It was de­bat­able, but as the on­field ref­eree, with a feel for the in­ten­sity of what was a huge game, I would not say that was an ob­vi­ous er­ror.

The last of those three big calls was Ja­cob Stock­dale’s try, when the ball may have brushed against his hand be­fore hit­ting his knee and bounc­ing to­wards the dead ball line, where he grounded it in the field of play. This was the eas­i­est of the three as there was no ob­vi­ous ev­i­dence that if the ball had hit him it de­vi­ated or changed di­rec­tion. There was no rea­son to dis­al­low the try.

So while Eng­land may feel hard done by I do not be­lieve Gard­ner got any of those big de­ci­sions in­cor­rect. His was not a fault­less per­for­mance and I would like to think he con­sid­ered award­ing Eng­land a penalty try when he sin-binned Peter O’Ma­hony for bring­ing down a driv­ing maul.

But I was im­pressed over­all. Gard­ner maybe doesn’t have the nat­u­ral skill-set to be a top-class ref­eree but through sheer graft and hard work has gone on to be Aus­tralia’s pre­mier of­fi­cial, and I ex­pect him to take charge of big games at the World Cup.

I was, though, dis­ap­pointed he didn’t have my fel­low coun­try­man, Mar­ius van der Westhuizen, as his as­sis­tant. Mar­ius was stood down af­ter help­ing Eng­land dur­ing train­ing this week, and while I can un­der­stand why World Rugby took him off the game – imagine if he had made a call which en­sured Ire­land would not win the Grand Slam – I hope it doesn’t set a prece­dent.

I en­joy spend­ing time with coaches and play­ers be­fore a game, clar­i­fy­ing is­sues in ad­vance. I re­mem­ber spend­ing two hours with Andy Robin­son, the Lions for­ward coach, be­fore the third Test against New Zealand in 2005. It was an ex­cel­lent con­ver­sa­tion and helped my of­fi­ci­at­ing.

Right de­ci­sion: TMO Skeen gave a try af­ter this Wat­son and Kear­ney aerial chal­lenge

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