Well I did say Wales were lucky in this year's Guinness Six Nations Championship didn't I?
But there is much, much more to it after Saturdays epic rugby game against England at the Millennium stadium. Refereeing controversy, niggle, massive hits, penalties, and more penalties.
There was even some fabulous rugby from both sides when it was allowed to break out.
Did England Lose Because Of Poor Refereeing?
Simply...No! Now as an Englishman and rugby fan that is hard to say. But even though Pascal Gauzere was niggly, sometimes erratic but strangely consistent for most of the game, England have themselves to blame.
Stupid Penalties and The Itoje Factor
Mario Itoje is a talismanic player. He is athletic, usually has a great rugby brain and passionate. But he lives on the edge of legal most of the time. He is famous for his off the mark speed and charge downs.
(For some reason the Welsh scrum half Kieran Hardy seemed to forget this....repeatedly)
The problem is that you have to play this tactic intelligently. If the ref is picky and pings you a lot adapt or suffer. In another game Itoje may only have been penalised for half of the offsides he got had for. Millimetres in it, but you are forcing the referee to make a decision.
But did he learn? My arse he did, and penalty racked on penalty.
Mario wasn't the only one to do this. And in the last quarter giving away 3 stupid kickable penalties in a row is insanity!!! It allowed Wales to stretch out their lead and relax.
The Try That Shouldn't have Been
Let's have a look at that first try. Pascale clearly asked Owen Farrell to speak to the English rugby team. Okay so you expect time to huddle chat and then get back before time called. A warning if you take too long maybe? No, start time and a try for Wales.
Should this have been allowed? In terms of fairness...no. But let's take another look at this.
Dan Biggar was so smart. He took full advantage of the situation and asked if time was back on. Very clever, trigger the referee to start the clock.
If England hadn't given this penalty up in the first place, then a problem would have been avoided.
If you have to do this on a referee request then be smart. I have seen teams have a plan. Keep the back 3 (Usually the fastest men) out just in case. They are rarely the offenders and can be briefed later. Play smart!
But technically the try stands but not in the spirit of the game...ref error.
The Knock On That Wasn't
Hmmm. This one really does annoy me. The officials seem to be confused over rules and interpretation as are we all. To me, it's a knock on every day of the week. The ball was clearly touched forward in the air and he never had control over it. The fact it hit his leg is neither here nor there.
The IRB rules state:
1. A knock-on may occur anywhere in the playing area.
2. It is a knock-on when a player, in tackling or attempting to tackle an opponent, contacts the ball and the ball goes forward. Sanction: Scrum (if the ball goes into touch, the non-offending team may opt instead for a quick-throw or lineout).
3. A player must not intentionally knock the ball forward with hand or arm. Sanction: Penalty.
It is not an intentional knock-on if, in the act of trying to catch the ball, the player knocks on provided that there was a reasonable expectation that the player could gain possession.
4. The ball is not knocked-on, and play continues, if:
5. A player knocks the ball forward immediately after an opponent has kicked it (charge down).
6. A player rips or knocks the ball from an opponent and the ball goes forward from the opponent’s hand or arm.
It seems that the match officials counted it as a kick. But a kick must be a deliberate not an accidental act. A good comparison is when a long kick occurs into an opponent’s 22. The full back goes to catch but fumbles, but it bounces forward off his knee or shin. Every time I have seen that has been a knock-on.
So yes, this should definitely have been disallowed.
But additionally, Wales may have had a try when George Ford tackled Josh Adams? Under the rules it isn't a knock on and the touchdown by Wales should have counted as a try.
When Rugby Broke Out In The England v Wales Match
I have to say when the game was actually allowed to flow there was some great rugby. Especially by England.
Why don't they play this fast recycling, offloading game more? When they did they had Wales in real trouble.
I thought Ben Youngs played the best game he has had for a long time. He looked sharp and quick. It is a shame the England support wasn't fast enough to keep up with him on his break. A problem from having big physical players instead of athletic ones.
Johnny May showed he could defend as well. But still too many missed tackles.
Wales showed how to take your chances though. Incisive when they got a chance and great finishing. Compare to England who butchered several chances. The Elliot Daly one just before half time. If he had looked outside and had the ball in 2 hands Johnny May would have been in. He may have a big boot and powerful run, but he has tunnel vision a lot and dropped the ball in contact too often.
Another chance was missed in the second half as well. Wales were reeling from a fast England attack. On the cusp of finishing it when from the ruck in the 22 Ben Youngs made the really bad decision to go blind and in petered out.
I loved all the England and Wales tries and was seriously impressed by the move which ended up with an Anthony Watson try and Ben Youngs was sharp for his try. Tit for tat with Kieran Hardy whose quick thinking after another stupid penalty given away by Johnny Hill was fabulous.
What Can We take From The England Wales Game?
Are Wales lucky. Yes. But as I said before in my previous article HERE, you can only play what's in front of you. They still have to score and finish. Despite being outplayed a lot in all their games they have shown great resilience. That together with much better discipline means they can stay in games and take the chances when they come.
England need to realise that they have to play the game and the referee as well. Adapt your game to how he is interpreting things. 14 penalties is completely unacceptable and you can't win games doing that.
Take a big stick and slap all the England forwards until they known what the rules at the breakdown are. It is unbelievable the things they were doing and getting pinged for.
Wales have exceptional and very promising young players coming through - Hardy, Sheedy, Rees-Zammit and Botham.
Wales need to up their defence. France when it comes will be a much different proposition to England as they can finish at will it seems.
Billy Vunipola needs to be challenged and replacements tried. Yes he is physical but teams seem to be ready for him now. What else does he have to his game? Not a lot IMO. Look at what an athletic and rugby playing no.8 like Faletau can do. Sam Simmonds from Exeter has been criminally overlooked.
Mark Curry looks lost without Sam Underhill. It is a big miss. Sam is a monster in the breakdown and in the loose. He also is one of the best support runners out there for England. Get fit soon.
If Elliot Daly continues to run blindly and drop the ball in hand you have to consider his position.
Anthony Watson is improving every match. He is gelling nicely especially with Johnny May at the back. He is also becoming a lethal finisher from short range. Strong and fast.