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Nigel Owens: Why Barrett yellow didn't lead to England penalty try

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Alex Davidson/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Nigel Owens has reviewed the yellow card brandished last Saturday at Twickenham to All Blacks full-back Beauden Barrett and explained why his foul play didn’t result in the award of a penalty try to England. The Autumn Nations Series match in London was in its 72nd minute with the All Blacks leading by 19 points when Barrett tackled the ball-carrying Marcus Smith near the try line.


There was nothing wrong with that intervention but the New Zealander stepped out of line by not releasing the England out-half after the tackle. This breakdown chicanery was punished by referee Mathieu Raynal showing Barrett a yellow card when the play was stopped, but the question was asked at the time by England skipper Owen Farrell why a penalty try was not awarded.

Hosting the latest episode of Whistle Watch, his weekly Test rugby video series, Owens began by reviewing the Barrett yellow card which happened at a time when the All Blacks were dominating on the scoreboard. “Let’s start at HQ, England against New Zealand, great game. New Zealand up 25-6 at the time when Marcus Smith cuts through and then Beauden Barrett makes a tackle, gets to his feet but he never releases the player.

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“You have to show a clear release before you go back to try and regather the ball. Because there is no clear release here, the referee gives a very, very good yellow card for an offence which some have asked, Owen Farrell was asking as well, why wasn’t it a penalty try? Well, the reason why it wasn’t a penalty try was too many defenders were there.

“So what the referee needs to think of is if Beauden Barrett hadn’t done the illegal action, would England have probably scored? That is the key thing. Not possibly. Not definitely. Probably. And looking at the defenders there you couldn’t say that England were probably going to score so the correct decision – yellow card but no penalty try.”

In hindsight, it was a crucial decision not to give England the penalty try. Instead, when they did score a try through Will Stuart seconds later after play resumed, Smith was wide with the conversion from out on the left and that ultimately proved to be a costly miss as the two converted tries that did follow with Barrett still in the sin bin were only good enough to seal a 25-all draw.

If a penalty try had been awarded, it would have been an automatic seven-point score and it would instead have meant that Smith’s 79th-minute conversion of the second Stuart try would have been the match-winning kick for a 27-25 triumph rather than a tie-making 25-all kick.


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Michael 606 days ago

I agree with the decision, I think a penalty try is too big a stretch. But here’s something with which I disagree - it’s way too big a stretch to assume that if a penalty try was awarded, then England would have won by 2. The unconverted try happened 9 mins from the end… who knows what would have happened next? How can you assume everything would have happened exactly the same? Who’d have stood where? Where the restart kick would land? Not a rugby question, I know, but nonetheless relevant 😉

Poorfour 607 days ago

I’m not sure I agree with that analysis. It looked to me that if Barrett hadn’t been holding on, Smith was actually close enough to the tryline that he might have been able to place the ball for a try. If that was the case, then the number of defenders becomes a bit irrelevant.

I can see why one wasn’t given, but I’d have liked M Raynal to look at the decision from that angle.

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