Owen Doyle: Referee’s performance didn’t affect outcome one jot at the Aviva

All in all it wasn’t a great weekend for the men in the middle in European semi-finals

We could be forgiven for thinking it's in the bag, but there's still a big job to be done. While incredibly high-tempo Leinster look unbeatable just now, they have to travel to Marseille to finish things off and they can expect a very hot welcome both on and off the pitch. The temperature dial is likely to be hovering towards 30 degrees in that neck of the woods on May 28th.

While magnanimous in defeat, there was, perhaps, just a little sniff of a French sour grape in Toulouse’s post-match comments that the Top 14 is not good preparation for the Champions Cup - heck they’ve won five of them.

True, Leo Cullen was able to leave his first string at home before the semis and still manage to top the table in the URC, while there is no such luxury in the fiery weekly contests of the Top 14. More pertinent was Toulouse's extra-time and penalty shootout against Munster the previous weekend, which was one hell of a draining battle.

Throw in the match against Ulster in Ravenhill, and they've probably had quite enough of Ireland for the moment.


When James Lowe actually walked over the Toulouse line to touch down in the 50th minute the visitors looked a tired, bewildered bunch. If Jamison Gibson-Park hadn't kicked away possession in the Toulouse 22, the points difference would have been even greater. Antoine Dupont snaffled that one and charged 80 metres for a seven pointer.

Referee Karl Dickson incurred the very visible wrath of Ronan O'Gara in the quarter-finals, despite La Rochelle's easy enough win against Montpellier. On Saturday he failed to endear himself to Toulouse and they will feel they didn't get much from him.

It's somewhat beyond me that there isn't an automatic yellow card for, illegally, trying to kill off an advantage play

However, the referee’s performance did not affect the outcome one jot - superior in every facet of the game, with the very alarming exception of the scrum, the better team, by a country mile, won.

Jack Conan's little take out of Romain Ntamack was clever, but he should not have been allowed to get away with it - Dickson considered it play-on. If it had been done to Johnny Sexton the crowd would have justifiably howled for a penalty.

The loss of Tadhg Furlong was serious, and much more so if he can't make the final. There seems to be no end to this man's talents, added to the twinkling feet he surprised us again, this time with a wondrously accurate long skip pass to Hugo Keenan, then followed that up with a delayed, clever short one to get the backline away.

Toulouse resorted to every tactic available to stem Leinster’s early onslaught. At one penalty advantage, there were three infringements called by the referee, for which he gave a warning. However, it’s somewhat beyond me that there isn’t an automatic yellow card for, illegally, trying to kill off an advantage play.

Lucky stars

Sunday saw a plodding, poor match in Lens, error strewn throughout, and La Rochelle can thank their lucky stars that they defeated Racing. They will need to turn up for the final with something completely different, and might well do so.

Because of the win referee Matt Carley will probably have avoided a grilling by O'Gara. They would have discussed a disallowed try early on, but more particularly the events just before half-time when the referee applied a unique approach to not producing a yellow card for Racing.

After a series of penalties he issued a general warning to the Racing players. Almost immediately there were several collapsed scrums, all penalties to La Rochelle, but no card. He then issued a specific warning to the frontrow, who, bizarrely, had apparently been exempt from his general warning. Huh?

Next, yet another scrum penalty advantage to La Rochelle who scored from it, but the card remained in the referee’s pocket. At this level, it was hardly good enough.

When eventually the cards came there were two in quick succession, plus a penalty try to O’Gara’s team. That will have cheered him up, but how they failed to score playing against 13 men for 10 minutes is a massive question for the coach.

The semi-finals in the Challenge Cup saw both Andrew Brace and Frank Murphy in action, and, I'm sad to say, neither produced top drawer performances. The constant bickering and questioning, by both teams, of Brace in Toulon versus Saracens was unacceptable, particularly Owen Farrell who seemed intent on running his own sideshow with the referee.

Brace must find a way to lift his tone and take immediate decisive action, by awarding a penalty, plus card if necessary. He's had a couple of iffy performances recently, and Australia v England comes up in the summer for him. All very good wishes for that, but there is clearly some work to do meanwhile.

As a general comment, this type of player behaviour makes for a distracting day at the office which can, in turn, affect decision making. When Alex Goode stepped into Toulon's Baptiste Serin, as Serin chased his own kick ahead, it was only a slight movement but it did the business and needed to be sanctioned. If Farrell had been similarly bowled over he would have demanded a penalty, and he would have been right.

The scrums in both semis were something of a shambles. Brace did issue sanctions but didn’t get any change in behaviour, and while that can happen, much firmer communication was needed.

In the Lyon v Wasps game, Frank Murphy took an unusual reset approach to the scrum, seeming reluctant to penalise, and these were a significant feature of the match. Of course it didn't solve the problem and Wasps will ask why their scrum was not rewarded, just as Toulouse's was in Dublin.

They will also wonder why the final play was a lineout five metres from their own line, rather than a scrum near halfway, giving them a last ditch chance to snatch victory; Jean-Marc Doussain’s attempted 50/22 kick hit the corner flag, then landed, it very much appeared in touch in-goal.

All in all, just not a great weekend for the men in the middle.