I’m sure many fans remember where they were when they saw the 6 Nations match between France and Wales last for 100 minutes. More than that, I’m sure many remember how wrong it felt watching the French conveniently need to switch props due to a ‘head injury’, which benefited Les Bleus by providing them a better scrum with the game on the line. Fans and pundits everywhere felt that this was an exploitation of the HIA laws to cheat the Welsh out of the win.
Fast forward to this November and we see some more conveniently injured props, but this time from the Welsh! Against Georgia, the inexperienced pairing of Nicky Smith and Leon Brown were dominated by the Lelos’ scrum for the opening 56 minutes before being replaced by Wyn Jones and Tomas Francis. The new props shored up the scrum considerably and made the set piece a much more even contest… until Francis decided to give away a stupid penalty on his own line with the clock in the red and get sent to the bin. With Wales a man down in the pack and the score at 13-6, it was no surprise to see the Georgians choose the 5m scrum, which meant that Wales needed to bring one of their original props back on. In a shocking twist though, both Brown and Smith had conveniently started suffering from cramp after their removal and were unable to come back on, meaning that any scrum would be uncontested and the Georgian advantage nullified. The Georgians switched their decision to a 5m lineout (I’m not sure if this was entirely legal but given the circumstances I think it was fair) but were unable to get across the line and had to settle for a 7-point loss.
I’m not even close to being a medical professional so it may be that Brown was genuinely injured – Smith does not play tight-head so the scrum would have still been uncontested – however he did not seem to be hindered when leaving the pitch and looked to be ready to come back on following Francis’ yellow until he “remembered he’s supposed to be injured” as Martyn Williams put it. We’ve had a couple of dubious ‘injuries’ in international rugby over the last 12 months and there was also a similar incident in the Challenge Cup Final. I think that it would be prudent for World Rugby to mandate at least one independent medic at games to confirm a player’s injury status, as this would probably make any similar situations in the future less controversial if a neutral entity is declaring a player unable to continue.
Just days after Steve Diamond finally gets banned for his outburst about the match officials following Sale’s loss to Exeter, we were reminded that he is not the only angry man leading a rugby team. Michael Cheika is known to wear his heart on his sleeve but his actions at Twickenham crossed a line. I can understand being frustrated at the way the game was going, but his anger seemed directed towards the officials and it certainly looked like he called the ref a “cheat” after one of the decisions went against him. He also appeared to get into some verbals with a fan on his way down to the pitch and appeared to be remonstrating with the officials at half time. Granted the 50/50 decisions did seem to go England’s way, but did Cheika really have any argument that the officials’ calls were wrong?
I can also understand why Michael Hooper was shown yellow considering he gave away a couple of cynical penalties close to the try line in quick succession, but I would have also understood him getting a final warning rather than a card. However I am totally in agreement with Beale’s yellow as it did not realistically look like he had a chance of catching the ball and his professional foul stopped an England break down the wing.
Looking to the tries that were allowed and disallowed, whether Elliot Daly’s try should have stood will come down to which side you support. I initially thought the ball touched the line, but there was no camera angle that clearly proved one way or another. I am 100% behind the referee disallowing Hooper’s try as he was clearly in front of Tevita Kuridrani when he initially kicked the ball and continues to move forward before being played on by Marika Koroibete, so I feel that the offside penalty was right despite Hooper being onside by the time Koroibete kicked the ball on. The decision as to whether Koroibete’s try should have stood comes down to whether you feel Stephen Moore was interfering with play. He was clearly in front of the ball and in my opinion he impeded Chris Robshaw – who appeared to try tackling both players at the same time – so I feel the decision to disallow the try was correct… but then I am an England fan so I may be a bit biased.
Regardless of the decisions, Cheika is meant to be a role model in a sport that prides itself on its respect of officials and I feel that his actions on Saturday reflect badly on him. I have read today that World Rugby have referred the case to the disciplinary authorities, it will be very interesting to see what punishment (if any) he gets for his outbursts.
The gaps are closing
The best news from the second week of the Autumn Internationals is that the gap between Tier 1 and Tier 2 nations is closing. Wales and Ireland may have both fielded less experienced teams, but they still had plenty of talent and experience, yet still only beat Georgia and Fiji by 7 and 3 points respectively. The Georgian scrum looks like it will be a match for most national teams and if their backs continue to improve the calls for them to join the 6 Nations will just continue to grow. Romania also beat Samoa and Scotland will consider their loss to New Zealand the one that got away, despite being down to their third choice at some positions and spending most of the second half with a hooker playing flanker.
As the gap closes between the tiers, this will just improve the quality of international competition – both the Summer & Autumn Tests and the World Cup – which will then just continue to improve the popularity of the sport in Tier 2 and Tier 3 countries. I for one can’t wait for the day we have to re-think the Tiers or scrap them altogether!