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Ref Watch: Scotland right to have gripes with Nic Berry's performance

By Paul Smith
Stuart Hogg and Nic Berry /PA

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Three Australian referees were appointed to this weekend’s Six Nations games and it was former Wasps scrum half Nic Berry who was the first in action.

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The 37-year-old came to much greater prominence than he would have wanted during the summer when he was the subject of Rassie Erasmus’ infamous video rant after the Springboks lost the opening test of the British & Irish Lions series.

He got things back on track during the Autumn Series and with confidence restored played his role in this entertaining round two Six Nations game in Cardiff.

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Berry certainly likes the game to flow, which makes for an entertaining spectacle, but also means there are a lot more bodies on the ground at the breakdown than is often the case.

He will also look back on three yellow card decisions – one which he gave and two which he didn’t – and reflect on the process by which he arrived at decisions not all of which will meet with universal approval.

Stuart Hogg Yellow Card?
A breathless opening saw Wales absorb loads of pressure then break out before Stuart Hogg ended a move with a midfield knock-on.

Berry gave a scrum, but as Nigel Owens observed in commentary plenty of other referees would have seen this very differently.

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The fact that Hogg’s arm is swinging into a tackle does not absolve him of blame.

For me his intervention ended a promising Wales attack in a broken-field situation with support around the ball carrier.

A deliberate knock-on does not automatically translate into a yellow card, but for me this was a penalty offence and due to the situation was also worthy of ten minutes in the sin bin.

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Finn Russell Yellow Card
This was excellent teamwork from the officials since Berry saw this as only a scrum advantage to Wales in real time.

However, after TMO Brett Cronan ruled that Alex Cuthbert had not grounded the ball in the corner he quickly told Berry that he needed to take a second look at the earlier offence which came as Scotland scrambled in defence following a long Dan Biggar penalty which rebounded from the posts.

The key factors which then earned Scotland’s no.10 a yellow card were that he had little chance of holding on the ball following his one-handed interception attempt and in Berry’s words: “His proximity to his own line.”

Former Scotland no.10 Ruairidh Jackson noted: “If Lewis doesn’t hit Russell’s arm when he tries to catch it he has a chance to catch it. Knock on or penalty max. To yellow card the guy there is brutal.”

Darcy Graham Tackle
With Berry playing penalty advantage to Wales, Scotland’s try-scoring winger tip-tackled Owen Watkin on the left wing. The Wales centre’s left leg clearly went beyond the horizontal but Graham did then put him safely to the ground where he landed on his back.

For me Berry got this exactly right – it was worthy of only a penalty and the mark would have been less central than that from which Dan Biggar kicked three easy points.

Game Management
Berry displayed some smart game management when issuing Scotland with a warning shortly before Tomas Francis claimed the home side’s opening try.

At the point that the whistler spoke to Stuart Hogg both sides had conceded five penalties and the visitors’ infringements were well spaced.

However, Berry identified that four of the penalties awarded against Scotland had been in their own 22 and that all emanated from the tackle area.

In the heat of a test match maintaining this level of awareness and composure was impressive.

The Devil’s in the Detail
When Graham claimed a high ball on the hour mark he was immediately engulfed by the Welsh kick chase and a maul ensued.

The crowd groaned with disappointment when Scotland were given the put-in to the scrum which resulted, but Berry was spot-on in law.

Because the Scottish winger was immediately engulfed he is deemed to have no opportunity to play the ball so his team keep possession at the restart.

Penalty Count
Where Wales last week went 50 minutes without winning a penalty during their defeat by Ireland, seven days later the penalty count finished 8-13 in their favour.

The key aspect of this was that the visitors lost the second half penalty battle 2-8, saw Russell sent to the sin bin and as a result in a tight match lost momentum and territory as a result.

Taine Basham Tackle
Wales had a heart-in-mouth moment late on when the TMO drew Berry’s attention to Basham’s high hit on Sam Skinner.

After a series of reviews the officials decided there was evidence that Basham had tried to wrap an arm, that the first point of contact was on the shoulder and that Skinner dropped in height immediately prior to the tackle.

As a result the infringement was deemed worthy of only a penalty.

On another day this would have been a yellow card offence but while it may be looked at by the citing officer it seems unlikely that more action will follow unless he deems it worthy of a red card.

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