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Owen Doyle: The Six Nations was good, but France should have finished fifth

We need to know exactly why Ireland’s Tadgh Furlong was denied a try against Scotland

A massive achievement by Ireland, brilliant. But, a walk in the park it certainly was not.

Scotland’s defence was extraordinary, as dogged as a Jack Russell holding on to a trouser leg. Ireland could not break free, and not much came from manoeuvres across their backline.

The winning margin was just four points, with Scotland gifting a crucial seven-pointer to the home team. It was the nearest thing rugby has to an own goal. George Turner’s lineout throw went straight over the top directly into Dan Sheehan’s lap, leaving little to do but touch down – he’ll hardly ever score an easier try. Extraordinarily, the Irish hooker tops the championship try-scoring stats alongside the Scottish flying wing Duhan van der Merwe, with both on five.

I expect the referee, Matthew Carley, will have woken up on Sunday to a pretty full in-tray. Both teams will have questions, many of them around the breakdown, but there were other things at play too.

The issues surrounding Tadhg Furlong’s disallowed try need clarification. It seemed to many, including me, that the prop had legitimately touched down, but then enter stage left assistant referee Karl Dickson with serious misgivings. Seemingly on his advice, Carley went to TMO Marius Jonker with “on-field decision, no try”. Jonker then was not persuaded that there was enough evidence to overrule the referee’s call, so “no try” stood.

I couldn’t see any separation of the ball from Furlong’s hand before he slammed it downwards, and that has previously been the main criterion for such decisions. Carley was happy to leave the call to Jonker, although we are all a lot happier when the man in the middle takes full ownership of the outcome.

I’m sure Gregor Townsend will want to learn all about preventive refereeing. Caelan Doris was in an offside position, about to enter the breakdown, when Carley roared at him “No”. The number eight was undoubtedly very obliged to get this information, and stepped away from the action, without sanction. If it had been whistled it looked like a simple three points for Finn Russell.

Preventive refereeing is fine, but it is only appropriate before players have infringed, for example reminding them of the offside line; not when they are in the throes of giving away a penalty. Also, and undoubtedly important in the overall scheme of things, Carley penalised Scotland 13 times, but found fault with Ireland on only four occasions. Townsend will undoubtedly analyse every single decision; and also every non-decision, that’s penalties which were not given against Ireland but should have been – he’s bound to find some.

In Cardiff, Italy notched up a famous victory, with Lorenzo Pani scoring one of the tries of the competition. Wales incongruously wore shirts carrying the motif “Go Compare”. Well, I won’t state the obvious here. A couple of late tries made things look better, although one was dodgy enough, with a strong hint of a double-movement by Will Rowlands. But neither Mathieu Raynal nor TMO Joy Neville addressed this element, while they were confirming correctly that the ball had been touched down.

But, heck, it didn’t matter to Italy. What did matter, though, was the last-play officiating cock-up at the end of their match against France. Without that they would have won three, and finished in fourth place, not to mention the prize money lost.

Raynal, who is extremely laid back, nearly to the point of falling over, had a good match. Very happily he only speaks when necessary, otherwise he gets on with his business quietly, and accurately. Water carrier Neil Jenkins was completely out of order to start an unseemly spat with the referee over what the Welshman saw as an unpenalised high tackle on Tomos Williams. Jenkins deserves, and must get, a severe and meaningful rebuke from World Rugby.

The best wine was kept until last. France and England served up a magnificent display in Lyons, which is not far from the finest Burgundy vineyards. The lead, having changed hands regularly, was only finalised in France’s favour with a penalty in the last minute, kicked by the unflappable Thomas Ramos.

Australian referee Angus Gardner was the designated replacement for Jaco Peyper in Scotland v Italy last weekend. This Lyons encounter was his original appointment, therefore we heard from him again. And boy, did we hear. He got his chatter going soon enough, including what amounted to a needless, lengthy debate with England skipper Jamie George. Enough said.

Overall, it’s been a good championship for the match officials. But there has to be major disappointment and frustration that two matches were decided by late errors – Scotland v France, and Italy v France – the French being the beneficiaries on both occasions. If those two calls had gone against them, they would have tumbled down the final points table.

World Rugby has just put in place it’s new elite referees selector panel, including now Ireland’s Dave McHugh. He is ideally suited to the role, and the appointment is an astute recognition of his knowledge and skills. With only a very small number of potential elite newcomers around the globe, they have a lot on their plate. We should wish them well.

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