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Ref Watch: Adapt or die, Aki's red and Tadhg Beirne's next level rugby IQ

By Paul Smith

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Ref watch: Ireland’s Bundee Aki, for a brief period, became the latest international player to earn a red card at the hands of Guinness Six Nations officials, against England in Dublin yesterday.

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This time it was another French pair – referee Mathieu Raynal and TMO Romain Poite – at the helm, and they went carefully through the protocol with which we are now all so familiar before finding no mitigating factors with which they could avoid giving the Connacht centre the second red card of his international career following his upright tackle and subsequent clash of heads with Billy Vunipola.

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Anorak Corner – 1
England’s first half struggles against Ireland were largely caused by their inability to secure scrum ball, with the hosts winning two penalties and a free kick plus two pieces of clean possession from six set-pieces.

After conceding a free kick in the sixth minute for an early push, Kyle Sinckler was again singled out for the same offence eight minutes before the break. Initially Raynal signalled a free kick, but quickly corrected himself and upgraded to a full penalty based on it being a second (and therefore in law a repeated) technical offence.

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Adapt or Die
Much was made of England’s work with Wayne Barnes and Matthew Carley ahead of their win over France, but again they failed to adapt on the hoof to the referee’s demands.

Raynal is accurate but pedantic in some areas – the early scrum push or marginal offside by a lineout lifter being two obvious examples – but he is also consistent and given the amount of analysis which goes on, surely Eddie Jones’ team should be better at staying on the right side of the referee.

The penalty count ended 12-14 in Ireland’s favour, but this is not representative of the contest. Looking purely at the 53-minute spell either side of half time during which Andy Farrell’s team built a match-clinching lead, Raynal found in the home side’s favour to the tune of 4-13 – a huge factor in England’s defeat.

Quarter 1Quarter 2Quarter 3Quarter 4
Pens against Ireland3126
Pens against England1454

Anorak Corner – 2
The restart claimed by Maro Itoje at which Sinckler took an accidental finger to the eye saw outstanding Ireland’s Tadgh Beirne show a fabulous ability to use the laws to his advantage.

The Munster back-rower’s pursuit of the kick-off got him to Itoje and his support a split second ahead of teammate Tadgh Furlong. Appreciating a maul was not formed – because law requires the ball carrier to be joined by one player from his own side and one opponent – Beirne quickly re-routed his running line to join from the England side and in the process secure a crucial turnover.

Scotland vs Italy
Referee Pascal Gauzere was at the centre of attention in his first outing following the two big errors which allowed Wales to score first-half tries against England.

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Taking charge of Italy’s visit to Murrayfield he had an excellent overall game – albeit in a low octane encounter where the result was never in doubt.

It was interesting to note the very pointed change made to how he dealt with a near-identical situation to that which created Josh Adams’ controversial score in Cardiff. After asking Luca Bigi to deliver a 32nd-minute general warning to his team, Gauzere this time paused theatrically before checking with the Italian captain: “Are you ready for the restart.”

Anorak Corner – 3
One or two heads will doubtless have been scratched late in the first half when Gauzere stopped play following Scotland’s attempted quick throw-in.

Stuart Hogg had possession of the ball in touch and threw it to Scott Steele who was also off the field. The home no.9 then proceeded to take a quick restart at a point around five metres behind the line of touch as marked by the touch judge.

Law differentiates between a quick throw-in and a lineout taken quickly – and this was the former – since it took place between the mark and the home goal-line rather than at the point where the ball went out of play.

As a consequence, Steele was not required to throw the ball in straight, but did have to use the same ball that went into touch before anyone else had played it. Hogg’s earlier touch contravened this fine point of law, meaning the quick throw-in option became unavailable to Scotland’s scrum half.

Quarter 1Quarter 2Quarter 3Quarter 4
Pens against Scotland3315
Pens against Italy3354

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Ref Watch: Adapt or die, Aki's red and Tadhg Beirne's next level rugby IQ

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