Eddie Jones believes his match-winning England were hard done by with a late in-game decision that saw referee Andrew Brace reverse a penalty decision and hand Guinness Six Nations possession back to France as full-time approached in the gripping 23-20 win by the hosts at Twickenham.
The England boss believed it was something he was unaware could happen on the field, a challenge questioning a decision. It is a new law trial that has been in use in recent weeks in Super Rugby but hadn’t been seen before in European rugby.
In New Zealand, the official challenge usually involves a video review and the stoppage of the clock but that wasn’t the case in London. Referee Andrew Brace had awarded England a penalty on halfway on 78:03, claiming that France had not released the ball at a ruck.
Live television pictures broke away to show a replay of the breakdown and when it cut back to live footage on 78:27, Brace had whistled to reverse his decision and instead give the penalty against Ben Earl for being off his feet when he was foraging for possession.
France captain Charles Ollivon was standing alongside Brace when the live coverage resumed and while it was unclear what if any influence the French back row had wielded on the official, Jones labelled the incident a captain’s challenge at his post-game media conference.
Maro Itoje, right at the death! ?
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 13, 2021
Initially asked if he was pleased with how England had attacked the French in the round four match, the coach replied: “We have always had the plan post-World Cup that we needed to create a game that will take up to the next World Cup. I believe with all the mooted law interpretations and variations – and we got a new one today, the captain’s challenge which we didn’t know about, so we missed out on the memo. We must be off the memo list, so I’ll need to check the computer and see what happened with that one.
“But we always felt that we needed to develop our game so we started at the start of the Six Nations and slowly we were getting a little bit better at getting the right balance in our game between running and kicking and it was probably another step forward but again we left a bit out there today.”
Asked to be more specific about the alleged captain’s challenge, Jones added: “The [Earl] decision got overturned that we didn’t know you could do that in a game of rugby. I have been involved with rugby for a little bit of time and I have never seen that before. I have never been informed you can do that.
“If we knew that Owen (Farrell) would have had his rule notebook out and made a note of when he could have challenged the referee. I thought it was just T20 cricket but it was a new one. Added a bit more excitement and also added a few more minutes of television time, so it was good.”
The penalty reversal ultimately didn’t affect the outcome, leaving Jones pleased with what he had seen from his England players following a difficult February where their indiscipline was a factor in the losses to Scotland and Wales. Saturday’s penalty count was 12-8 against the English, but not enough to adversely alter the result.
“Maro (Itoje) and Owen particularly stood out today in terms of the way they led the team, played at their best and contributed to show a lot of composure in terms of coping with difficult periods,” said the coach.
“It was a good step forward today. We are still nowhere near our best and that is the exciting thing and the players feel that. We have got another week in the competition to put our best foot forward against Ireland, so we are looking forward to raising the stakes again.
“I thought we fought hard against Wales. We had two difficult decisions at the start of the game, got back to 24-all, and today was an extended version of that. I’m really pleased with how honest the players’ effort was. They have been great in the preparation, really good attitude, great leadership by Owen and full credit to the players and the assistant coaches for what a great job they did.”
Jones added: “France are a good team, quality players. They are well-coached and we said to our players we are going to be racing them to the World Cup. They are a good team. They are developing, we’re developing and it’s going to be a good race between the two of us and we got a bit of a head start on them today.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 13, 2021
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