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Nigel Owens explains why referee was wrong to award Etzebeth try

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Paul Harding/Getty Images)

Retired referee Nigel Owens has explained why Angus Gardner was wrong to award the Eben Etzebeth try to the Springboks last Saturday at Twickenham. The converted early second-half score put South Africa into a comfortable 24-6 lead in a match they went on to win 27-13, but the try should not have been allowed to stand.

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Reviewing the footage on the latest edition of Whistle Watch, his weekly Test window video series, the 100-cap Owens identified that Etzebeth illegally played the ball and the correct call would instead have been to disallow the Springboks try and give a penalty at the ruck against Owen Farrell – with the only debate to be had being whether to yellow card England skipper for potential cynical play near the try line.

“England-South Africa, a hugely physical game,” began Owens about a match that had the Australian Gardner in charge working with a team of officials consisting of assistants Andrew Brace and Pierre Brousset and with TMO Ben Whitehouse.

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“Now let’s have a look at the Etzebeth try. A lot of people discussing this. A lot going on here. First of all, look at Owen Farrell. Does he roll away and give a clear release which means that the ball carrier can then place the ball quickly and away if he wants to?

“Then you have the question does Faf de Klerk actually knock the ball on, and then Etzebeth when he scores the try he is actually still on the ground? A lot of things here for the referee to process.

“Now the key thing to start off with is Etzebeth cannot play that ball until he gets back on his feet which means then the try should not have been allowed because Etzebeth is still on the ground and the rule in rugby, the most important law in the game is, everybody knows if you on the ground you are out of the game.

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“So let’s sum all that up them. Three things going on. First offence, Owen Farrell not releasing and rolling away. (Maro) Itoje is on his feet, he should be allowed to win that jackal turnover (which led to the de Kerk knock-on). Etzebeth then scores the try, he should be on his feet before he plays the ball.

“So the try should not have been given, the penalty would have been to Itoje but you go to the first offence, which was a penalty against Owen Farrell for not releasing and rolling away. If the referee felt that was cynical play then a yellow card may well have followed for Farrell.

“But to sum it all up for you, no try but a penalty against England five metres out for Owen Farrell not releasing in the tackle.”

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