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Ref Watch: 'If he has the ball in both hands that is not foul play'

By Paul Smith
Referee Wayne Barnes attempts to separate Peter OMahony of Ireland and Stuart Hogg of Scotland, second from left, during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby Championship match between Ireland and Scotland (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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The hugely experienced Wayne Barnes was an appropriate choice to take charge of a final round encounter which had plenty of relevance to the destination of this year’s Six Nations title.

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And once again the man who is probably the world’s leading whistler looked and sounded totally in control of an entertaining contest.

A Great Communicator
You sense that the players trust Barnes and a lot of this comes from his ability to communicate with them. They may not always like what is says, but he is totally clear, and no-one is left in any doubt about why he has made each decision.

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Plenty of social media critics dislike referees (including Barnes) who use players’ Christian names, but providing the referee is able to identify and speak to all 46 players on first-name terms I see no issues with it.

In addition to creating an environment in which everyone feels they are being dealt with “on a level” rather than being rebuked by a haughty head master, by far the best way to get someone’s attention is to preface your comment with their name.

“Ali, use it,” is an example of Barnes using this technique when speaking to Scotland’s scrum half Ali Price – “Blue nine, use it” works equally well, and for me neither are overly familiar.

Small Margins
TMO Stuart Terheege intervened to ask Barnes to look at possible foul play by Scotland’s loose head Pierre Schoeman who made forceful contact with Iain Henderson’s chin with his front arm while carrying hard into contact.

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Had the prop’s arm not been in contact with the ball – especially if it had been braced – when it struck the Ireland lock in the face Barnes would have been required to adjudicate on foul play. Given the force evident a red card may well have resulted.

However, since Schoeman appeared to have both arms wrapped around the ball the incident became a legitimate collision. “If he has the ball in both hands he is pushing away,” Barnes told the TMO and the viewing public. “Iain Henderson is upright and that is not foul play.”

Once a Barrister…
New referees are quickly advised to develop an encyclopaedic knowledge of law as not having to pause for thought is critical in a pressurised environment.

As two or three of the fast-tracked ex-players who now officiate at the top level have shown, when your every word is heard on TV via the ref mike, requiring even a split second of ‘thinking time’ does little to inspire wider confidence in your decision-making ability.

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Practicing barrister Barnes showed twice in the first half just how on top of the minutiae of the lawbook he remains. As Darcy Graham juggled then held a high ball Barnes advised: “Not a clean catch, you need a clean catch to call a mark.”

Then, as Scotland failed to retire ten metres from a quickly-tapped free kick he stopped the game and told the players: “He wasn’t ten metres so it’s another free kick,” before informing Johnny Sexton: “Remember they are allowed to charge it.”

Similarly in the second half as Scotland looked to him for a breakdown penalty he told the jackalling Rory Darge: “You have to lift the ball not just put your hands on it.”

TMO Usage
This is an area that really sets Barnes apart since his relaxed style and ability to process large amounts of information in real time allows him to involve the TMO while play continues.

“That’s not a knock-on is it,” he asked Terheege after the ball bobbled loose in the early stages, “They just ran into each other didn’t they?”

His approach also allowed the TMO to intervene and ask for a review of Pierre Schoeman’s try when once again his clarity and superb communication skills were evident. His blow-by-blow explanation was also particularly useful for the watching TV audience – a situation about which Barnes is doubtless fully aware.

“Once the knee lands he needs to place the ball. He’s allowed to extend out is arm and the ball is on the line so that’s a try for me,” he advised.

Similarly when showing Ben White a yellow card for his late deliberate knock-on, Barnes advised the players and viewing public that the Scotland replacement’s intervention had “denied an overlap” which succinctly explained why the offence was upgraded from a penalty.

Scrum Clarity
Plenty of noise surrounded the six scrum penalties which Mathieu Raynal awarded against Ireland during last week’s win over England.

And the situation has since been further complicated by Ireland’s suggestion that the French official’s post-match review told them a few of his calls should actually have gone in their favour.

Perhaps with this in mind, Barnes left no-one in any doubt when penalising Ireland. “No.1’s hips are out and no.3 has gone straight through him,” he said.

The match finished with Ireland conceding 10 penalties of which four were in the scrum while the visitors gave up two scrum penalties plus a further 14 elsewhere on the field. Four of the 10 scrums produced clean possession.

Wales v Italy
A dead rubber played in a flat atmosphere in Cardiff with Andy Brace in charge, the match had few talking points until the visitors pulled off a shock first Six Nations win in 36 attempts with a last-gasp converted try.

The Irish official – one of a group of referees who retain an outside chance of joining the big guns at France 2023 – had a good afternoon during which his simple-yet-clear communication stood out.

His consistent control of the offside line and the scrum, where eight set-pieces brought no resets and only two penalties, also impressed while it was good to see his consistent attempts to speed up play and prevent forwards buying themselves extra rest.

The Key Moment
It seemed unimportant at the time, but with hindsight the match hinged on Brace’s decision not to award Wales a try when replacement Wyn Jones was adjudged held up by tackler Braam Steyn.

Brace found himself on the ‘wrong’ side as Jones landed in goal, and having quickly moved to the open side advised TMO Joy Neville that his on-field decision was no try.

Given that the Welsh prop went to ground with the ball firmly tucked in his midriff, it is fair to say that most referees would have ruled in Jones’ favour, since a single arm or hand is rarely able to prevent any part of the ball touching the ground when it has the whole of the ball-carrier’s body weight is behind it.

Had Brace gone this way, the TMO would have needed to find clear evidence with which to overturn the call, and since none was present the hosts would have extended their lead to a match-clinching 11 (or 13) points.

An interesting comparison in both referee positioning and interpretation of a similar grounding scenario was seen in Barnes’ award of Cian Healy’s try late in the first half for Ireland against Scotland.

Advantage?
Neville’s only other involvement came on the stroke of half-time when she was asked to look at a possible Italy try when players twice contested a loose ball following Paolo Garbisi’s hopeful cross kick.

Brace, who was playing advantage to Italy for a scrum penalty, waited to see if the in-goal pin-ball gave Italy a try-scoring opportunity before consulting Neville.

Before confirming that Owen Watkin had won the touchdown race, the TMO clearly had some concerns about Monty Ioane’s earlier aerial challenge on Johnny McNicholl which were not shared by the man in charge.

“It’s a good contest in the air then he (McNicholl) falls down,” was Brace’s verdict, but on another day Ioane’s aerial contact with Wales no.15’s shoulder would definitely have been penalised.

Had this been the case the penalty Italy conceded – which in law would have fallen in the foul play category – would have trumped the earlier scrum award and Wales would have been given the chance to clear their lines.

Pedantic or accurate?
After Italy conceded four penalties in their own 22 between the 15th and 21st minutes, Wales were doubtless slightly aggrieved that Brace had not issued the Azzurri with a warning.

And their frustration grew as the referee (almost apologetically) recalled Dewi Lake’s quick tap because the Wales hooker had failed to kick the ball before charging towards the visitors’ posts.

This actually happens a lot more regularly than you might imagine, usually when the player taking the quick tap is looking at the defence rather than the ball in an attempt to spot a gap.

In law a penalty kick is just that – and must therefore touch the boot – so failing to tap the ball is something of a schoolboy error. However, it really makes no difference to what follows, since neither side is disadvantaged by it, and is therefore one of those situations where referees often turn a blind eye.

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