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'Total nonsense' - Nigel Owens has final say on URC's most controversial game

By Ian Cameron
Referee Nigel Owens during the 2020 Guinness Six Nations match between France and England at Stade de France on February 02, 2020 in Paris, . (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Retired referee Nigel Owens has had the final say on arguably the most controversial game of the United Rugby Championship season.

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The renowned whistler has definitively addressed the controversy surrounding last month’s fiercely debated URC match between Ulster and Cardiff held in Belfast – which has been a talking point for weeks afterwards.

It even saw Cardiff’s head coach Matt Sherratt will serve a one-game sideline ban for an unpleasant interaction between the coach and the match referee Mike Adamson. An official WRU match report said the Welsh side had been ‘robbed’ on account of the refereeing calls.

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Jake White explains how Ospreys was beaten

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Jake White explains how Ospreys was beaten

The controversy revolved around three contentious calls by Adamson during the game, which Cardiff lost narrowly 19-17 despite appearing to win it with a stunning late try, which was subsequently disallowed following a TMO review.

“Let us look first at that Rhys Carre knock-on, which saw Cardiff have a late try ruled out and a penalty awarded to Ulster instead,” wrote Owens in his Wales Online column. “There is absolutely no doubt that the ball has come off Carre’s hand first and gone forward, it definitely is a knock-on.

“Whether it was a deliberate knock-on, however, comes down to the referee’s interpretation of the incident. Some officials would give it, others wouldn’t, but at the very least, it is a knock-on. Cardiff fans argue it wasn’t deliberate, Ulster fans would claim it was. It all comes down to interpretation and Adamson certainly wasn’t in the wrong to make the decision he did,” saids Owens.

“It’s the same for the Thomas Young incident, when the ball was knocked out of his hands by an Ulster player’s boot as he looked to cross the line to score. Obviously, you cannot kick the ball out of a player’s hand, but was it intentional or was the defender just trying to swing himself underneath Young to prevent the try? Again it must come down to the referee’s interpretation – that is simply the nature of the game. To be honest, I am with the referee on this one, it doesn’t look like a deliberate act to kick the ball out of the player’s possession.”

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“The Ulster try, where the ball looked to have been knocked on by John Cooney in the build-up, is one decision that probably could have gone either way. Your gut feeling is that the ball has gone forward, but when I look at the footage, I wouldn’t put my house on it. On another day, another referee would have given that as a knock-on, so one can certainly understand the frustration of a coach and supporters on this one.”

“Out of those three big decisions, Adamson was definitely right on two of them and the third one is certainly debatable either way. So it makes me annoyed to hear fans claim that referees like him are biased or have an agenda, which is total nonsense.”

Owens highlighted that while referees are accountable and should be open to critique, the criticisms must be constructive and respectful to maintain the sport’s integrity. His commentary comes in the wake of significant backlash from fans over the refereeing standards in the URC.

Read Nigel Owens article in full here.

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