Ferris cannot argue with penalty call
Rowly Williams,
February 10, 2012
Bradley Davies is shown his yellow card by Wayne Barnes, Ireland v Wales, Six Nations, Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Ireland, February 5, 2012
Wales' Bradley Davies is shown his yellow card by Wayne Barnes during Sunday's clash in Dublin © Getty Images

With the first week's dust well and truly settled, it's a good time to look back at the opening weekend and the performances of the officials.

Plenty of words have already been written and no end of opinions have been expressed on some of the key decisions. The opening match between France and Italy in Paris was in itself a tidy game with no obvious areas of debate. Referee Nigel Owens allowed the match to flow where he could (which was often) with the total of 16 penalties awarded some way below last year's Six Nations average of a little over 20 per match.

Half of his penalties were in that heavily-contested area of the pitch between the two 10m lines but more commonly for scrum offences than infringements at the breakdown. He continually rewarded the defence for good discipline in and around their own 22, and just as in the recent Rugby World Cup there was a spike in the final stages with the Welshman awarding 25% of his penalties in the final 10 minutes.

George Clancy took charge of Scotland's clash with England at Murrayfield and was a lot close to last year's average with 21 penalties and like Owens, seven of those were awarded in the middle of the pitch. He rewarded the attacking team with five penalties in and around the opposition's 22 and just over 50% of his penalties were at the tackle/breakdown. The Irishman's penalty count also climbed in the closing stages with six penalties (29%) coming in the final minutes.

Both Owens and Clancy were able to keep their cards in their pocket and England showed what many commentators have labelled as outstanding discipline in the second half to withstand a series of Scottish raids without conceding too many penalties. And so to Dublin where Wayne Barnes was the man in the middle for Ireland's opener with Wales. Things appeared to be going well with both sides positive in their approach and compliant to Barnes' instructions hence the lowest penalty count of the weekend ( 15). The Englishman awarded eight penalties at the tackle/breakdown, with only one penalty awarded in 22 metre area. But the game would take a dramatic turn in the latter stages of the second half.

The subsequent criticism stems from the moment that Wales' Bradley Davies took exception to some of Donnagh Ryan's play and upended him in a 'tackle' that immediately drew comparison with that which saw Sam Warbuton red-carded during the World Cup. The difference between this latest ugly incident and that at the World Cup is that on this occasion, the referee did not see the 'tackle' and it had to be brought to his attention by the assistant referee. Fellow Rugby Football Union and RWC referee Dave Pearson advised Barnes of Davies' actions and was then asked for a recommendation. Without hesitation Pearson's call was for a yellow card, Barnes repeated the colour, spoke to Davies, marked the penalty and gave the lock his marching orders. The fact that Davies has since been cited and banned for seven weeks has underlined the severity of the challenge that occurred off the ball.

"Ferris' citing for what was deemed a 'tip-tackle' has since been dismissed but the fact that he lifted and drove his player sideways did not negate from the fact that for a small amount of time Evans' hips were higher than shoulders - an accepted guide for foul play tackles."

But there was more drama to come with another yellow card call a few minutes later. This time, Barnes saw the tackle by Ireland's Stephen Ferris on Wales lock Ian Evans and awarded what would prove to be the match-winning penalty before sending the Irishman to the sin-bin. Ferris' citing for what was deemed a 'tip-tackle' has since been dismissed but the fact that he lifted and drove his player sideways did not negate from the fact that for a small amount of time Evans' hips were higher than shoulders - an accepted guide for foul play tackles - and therefore he was rightly penalised, carded and cited himself. However, the general consensus is that the appropriate judgements were handed down by disciplinary chiefs.

Back to the controversy surrounding the Davies tackle and Pearson's view of the events that played out in front of him. There has been talk of an expanded role for the Television Match Official and it's true that in instances of foul play perhaps there is scope to explore that. A further 30 seconds for the TMO to review the incident from several angles and in slow motion would have revealed the true extent of the tackle and hardly interrupted the flow of the game. It was a luxury that Pearson did not have and of course it's true we're all TMO's from the comfort of the armchair.

Just as cricket umpires are now used to having an occasional decision over turned on the referral scheme (stats still show the vast majority of initial calls are correct), perhaps it's time to look to extend that support to match officials in other sports.

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