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
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