Failure to give Italy another penalty after Paolo Garbisi’s miss was baffling

But it’s generally good we’re hearing less chatter from referees

We all know that Napoleon Bonaparte lost the battle at Waterloo. But at least he was there with his charges.

Not so the current emperor of French rugby, Antoine Dupont, who folded his tent and departed the camp to pursue his Olympic Sevens dream. Perhaps it’s hard to blame him, and he has the apparent blessing of the Fédération Française de Rugby. But there are plenty of French supporters who are distinctly unamused that he is missing in Six Nations’ action.

The thought also occurs whether or not the playing squad readily accept his absence. I’d hazard a guess that they do not. France seem totally at sea, rudderless, without their leader whose presence would undeniably have made a difference.

The circumstances of their drawn match with Italy continue to cause grumbles, and my phone has buzzed all week. Always the same, simple question: “how on Earth could that happen?” I’m afraid I had no answer, and still haven’t. “Incomprehensible” is the best I can do. The result, shot clock apart, came about because referee Christophe Ridley denied Italy a second penalty when France moved forward before Paolo Garbisi had kicked, and notwithstanding the presence of a trespassing water carrier. It’s a very basic rugby law, the prohibition of moving forward in this way, and it is an elementary lesson for all aspiring referees from the moment they buy their first whistle.


As baffling as Ridley taking no action was, you have to wonder what his assistants were doing, not to mention the TMO. Nobody noticed anything was amiss. It was way below the standard required at this exalted level, the officials failing badly to earn their corn. There are significant financial awards for where teams finish in the table, so this event could conceivably leave Italy short about half a million euro, depending on results over the next two weekends.

Clarity is also badly needed about what exactly a player can do at the breakdown when a team-mate is tackled. When Dupont arrives at the breakdown, he wants the ball as fast as a strike of greased lightning, enabling him to attack disorganised defences at pace, with electrifying results. His replacement, Maxime Lucu, had another option, straddling over the tackled player with his hands on the ground, far beyond the ball.

How this is construed as being on his feet, supporting his own body weight, is beyond my imagination. Meanwhile, defenders are pinged with great haste, even enthusiasm, the nanosecond their hand touches the ground past the ball. Okay, maybe give the ball-carrying team some leeway but define it for us. What is currently happening is a bridge too far, and utterly inequitable.

France lost Jonathan Danty following a bunker upgrade.,The player has previous, and subsequently received a five-week sentence. I had wished for an improvement in the number of dangerous tackles, and up to now things have actually improved. Apart from France.,In their three matches to date they have accumulated four on-pitch yellows, plus two red upgrades. It’s well past time for them to do better.

The only other yellow for this offence was to England’s Ollie Chessum, a tad harsh maybe, and correctly not upgraded. The danger apart, high upright tackles are designed to stop the ball carrier passing, whereas their absence allows for offloading, and potentially much more open play.

The Ridley incident was a great pity because the match officials have been going pretty well so far, and have even adopted a lower profile in their communication style than what we normally have to endure.

That is probably on the advice, maybe the insistence, of World Rugby referee chief Joël Jutge, and they are far the better for talking less. I hope they realise that it is the way to go, and not revert to constant chatter when they return to their various leagues. It was another of my stated wishes for the championship, but I really gave it no chance at all. So far it’s been a very welcome change.

Jutge’s responsibilities cover both hemispheres, a colossal brief. But some help is at hand, with World Rugby expanding his department by appointing referee coaches for both the women’s and the men’s game, with further support coming in the pathway and talent identification area. The appointees will report to Jutge, and also to the genial former Welsh international Phil Davies, now World Rugby’s director of rugby.

It’s a new, and absolutely necessary strategy. All unions must ensure that their referee departments buy into it, no option. It has the potential to enable a cohesive, coherent system, designed to deliver consistency on a global scale, in all competitions. It is sorely needed.

These appointments will have quite a knock-on effect in the IRFU referee department. Joy Neville’s much publicised role as referee manager in Connacht is now off the table, as she has nailed down the World Rugby women’s referee coach role. Elite referee coach John Lacey is leaving too, slotting into World Rugby’s referee talent identification scheme. Both were international refs on my and Dave McHugh’s watch – best wishes to them.

Added to the recent departure of national referee manager David Wilkinson, to the role of director of match officials in the USA, it creates a very sizeable hole in the IRFU infrastructure. How best to fill that hole is now the pertinent question. The Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, got it right – “festina lente”, hasten slowly.