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Ref Watch: In defence of Matthew Carley

By Paul Smith
English referee Matthew Carley reacts during the France 2023 Rugby World Cup Pool C match between Wales and Fiji at Stade de Bordeaux in Bordeaux, south-western France on September 10, 2023. (Photo by ROMAIN PERROCHEAU / AFP) (Photo by ROMAIN PERROCHEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

A brilliant game of rugby came to a breathless conclusion in Bordeaux when Semi Radrada just failed to hang on to a difficult skidding pass and score the try that would have given Fiji a chance to claim the spoils against Wales with the ensuing conversion.


The contest was controlled by an all-English set of onfield officials led by referee Matthew Carley with Irishman Brian MacNeice in the TMO chair.

Other than asking both captains to keep their players quiet and stop requesting TMO reviews Carley had a straightforward evening until Fiji piled on the pressure as they tried to turn round a two-score deficit in the closing 25 minutes.

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The penalty count stood at a relatively low eight apiece at the end of the third quarter, but it is how Carley opted to manage the final stages of the match that has since drawn plenty of comment. I will therefore attempt to explain this sequence of events through a referee’s eyes…

56 to 62 minutes
When Fiji piled pressure on the Wales line they won four penalties in a six-minute period either side of the hour mark. Two of these were against Ryan Elias and all were either at the breakdown or for offside.

At this point Carley issued Wales skipper Jac Morgan with a warning that his team’s persistent infringement was likely to be punished with a yellow card should a further penalty be awarded in the near future.

Matthew Carley
Referee Matthew Carley

Could Carley have issued this warning one penalty earlier? Perhaps – but since the infringements were not all inside Wales’ ‘red zone’ or for identical offences this call was not clear-cut.

In addition, because of the relatively balanced and low penalty count in the match prior to that point his tolerance level will have been slightly higher than on other occasions.

Yellow Card Scenarios
The key point to understand here is that – foul play apart – a yellow card is shown in one of two situations.

The first of these occurs when a player commits a cynical one-off offence which denies the opposition what the ref considers a possible (rather than probable) try-scoring opportunity.


The prevention of a probable try is punished by the award of a penalty try with the transgressor also getting a yellow card providing he can be identified.

The second is when a team commits multiple offences either in a short period of time or in the same situation (eg at the scrum). These infringements may be committed by different players – for example sequential scrum collapses may be caused by the tight head, hooker then the loose head – but once a team warning is issued it is the last offender who becomes the fall guy and receives the card even if he is being penalised for the first time in the match.

64 minutes
After the warning was issued Wales managed to escape their 22 without conceding any further penalties and when they drove a maul rapidly down the right-hand side of the Fiji 22 Lekima Tagitagivalu collapsed it around ten metres from his own line. This is clearly a cynical act and the islanders’ no.7 was immediately and correctly sent to the sin bin.


66 to 68 minutes
Wales then scored to lead 32-14 and six minutes later at a fairly innocuous midfield situation their replacement prop Corey Domachowski lunged into the side of a breakdown. Because Wales were recently issued a team warning their no.17 is correctly shown a yellow card.

70 minutes
Wales collapse a scrum in their own 22. Could this have earned them a second yellow card following the earlier team warning? Domachowski’s sin-binning does not wipe the slate clean, but most referees allow one further penalty before then going to their pocket for a second time.

On this basis, and possibly also because this was the first scrum penalty conceded by Wales, the immediate award of a second yellow would therefore have been harsh.

It is also worth noting that because the scrum was not moving quickly forwards or in range of the try-line this does not merit a card in its own right as a one-off offence.

72 minutes
When Fiji score a converted try through Josua Tuisova eight minutes remain. Wales incur Carley’s wrath through dawdling back to the restart and he opts to stop the clock and warn them rather than award a penalty on halfway to Fiji.

Having not previously spoken to Wales about time wasting going straight to a penalty here would be considered as unnecessarily ‘pulling a cat out of a bag.’

77 minutes
With three minutes remaining Fiji looked to have driven Penai Ravai over for a try only for Carley to rule it out following TMO review.

While the ball was touched down in goal, the Fijian carrier initially went to ground with his left knee a metre short of the line then made a second movement that involved more than placement of the ball with his arms and upper body.

This therefore led to Wales correctly being awarded a penalty – had Ravai’s momentum alone taken him over the line the try would have stood.



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TRENDING FFR statement: Antoine Dupont FFR statement: Antoine Dupont