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Ref Watch: The verdict on Jaco Peyper's contribution to Wales v Ireland

By Paul Smith
Jaco Peyper /Getty Images

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Vastly experienced South African official Jaco Peyper got this year’s Six Nations underway and he put in an accomplished display.

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The TMO was rarely involved, but on the two occasions England’s Stuart Terheege was called into action protocols were followed to the letter and two potentially tricky calls were dealt with expertly.

Peyper also twice was heard to ask Terheege: “Do you want to look at that,” which allowed play to continue while possible foul play was examined in the background.

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Andrew Conway Try
The match-clinching score came early in the second half when Conway reached for the line in the tackle. Slo-mo replays showed the ball was grounded inches short of the line but when viewed in real time it was immediately apparent that Conway’s momentum took him and the ball on to the whitewash.

Once this was established the only question remaining was whether any separation between ball and hand had emerged during the time when Conway reached for the line and the instant when the whitewash was reached.

Josh Adams Yellow Card
Peyper’s initial instincts told him this was “both players competing hard for the ball” but once he had seen a replay it became apparent that Adams had made no attempt to play the ball and was therefore guilty of foul play rather than being part of an accidental collision.

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I especially liked that Peyper asked for a ‘real-time’ replay first, before looking at slo-mo versions. This allowed him to watch the incident through a player’s eyes and assess the degree of intent present.

His conclusion that Adams’ actions were “reckless” and that he had “dropped the shoulder” were impossible to contest. It also seemed possible that he made some contact with Sexton’s chin, but this was far from obvious and unlike his erroneous decision not to show red in last week’s URC contest, seven days on a yellow card was proportionate.

Let it Flow
A big international, especially when it opens a tournament, is always a nervy occasion and as a referee it is tempting to blow the whistle too much in the early stages to establish control.

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It is perhaps not surprising give Peyper’s experience, that his management of the first half was anything but nervy. And by playing loads of advantage he hugely helped the flow of the game. Ireland’s opening three tries came with the referee’s arm out while the penalty which extended their interval lead to ten points also came while advantage was being played.

A tiny piece of detail which showed Peyper’s confidence to let play flow came when he slightly paused before calling a maul which eventually gave Ireland a turnover in their own 22. This brief hiatus allowed Wales the opportunity to recycle possession, despite the maul in law being formed when the ball carrier is joined by one teammate and one opponent, before eventually accepting that the ball was tied in by which point eight players were bound to the maul.

Scrum
This positive approach extended to Peyper’s management of the scrum. Perhaps due to the conditions the first half saw an unusually high ten set-pieces take place but only two required resets and only the final scrum of the half ended in the award of a penalty.

Another indicator of the referee’s confidence came with him calling for play to continue and possession be moved away on four occasions when the front rows caved in with the ball at the no.8’s feet. Since neither pack were going forward nor looking for a second drive this was an entirely justifiable (and safe) approach but when Ireland did get a nudge on before the front rows went down Peyper read this changed situation perfectly and rewarded them with a penalty.

Donning the Ear-Protectors
Plenty was made of the challenge Peyper may face as a result of Johnny Sexton and Dan Biggar, men described by ITV’s build-up as “bristling with aggression and determination,” being named to captain their countries in this Six Nations opener.

Both are renowned for sometimes taking a fractious on-field approach to match officials and they even went as far as joking in the build-up to the match that Peyper may require ear protectors.

While the captain has a privileged position in being allowed more access to the referee than his teammates, this is definitely not carte blanche to spend 80 minutes in his ear or to adopt an overly aggressive, disrespectful approach. Indeed, plenty of captains have had their ‘rights’ redefined or even removed by referees over the years due to their unacceptable behaviour.

Biggar and Sexton will be fully aware that they need to work with referees rather than having a confrontational relationship with them. The commonly held belief that a referee’s decisions are directly influenced by this interaction is nonsense – whether the whistler likes or dislikes the captain has no bearing on whether he calls a penalty or shows a card.

However, rugby is a very nuanced game and having the referee ‘on side’ does at least allow the captain and his coach to have peace of mind that the 50/50 calls are not being influenced by any subliminal thoughts.

Maybe the one-sided nature of the match meant Sexton’s argumentative side never emerged but I only picked him up on the ref mike once in 80 minutes, and while Biggar had a few more queries for Peyper to answer his manner was entirely appropriate throughout. Full marks to both.

Ireland Discipline
The home side dominated throughout and a big part of this was their outstanding discipline.

Andy Farrell’s team went through the entire opening half of the contest without conceding a penalty – in fact following the reversal of the high tackle award which was coming their way prior to Josh Adams’ yellow card offence they first infringed in the 54th minute.

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Pens against Ireland0024
Pens against Wales3245

Doubtless some of less-than-rational social media reaction will question this and suggest Wales were unfairly treated but in reality they were hammered across the field and the penalty count reflects this Irish dominance.

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