The northern hemisphere rugby fraternity was up in arms at the weekend as the International Rugby Board introduced the new law interpretations already in operation in the Super 14.
Peter Bills, IOL
Howls of protest greeted the decision by the IRB to introduce the new, strict interpretations midway through the Six Nations Championship.
Irish coach Declan Kidney did not criticise South African referee Craig Joubert, who handled the Ireland-Wales match in Dublin and penalised players frequently at the breakdown.
He said afterwards: “In terms of Craig, he had a good game. I think he is a top class referee. But I think there is another discussion to be had; changing the emphasis on something in mid-competition seems extraordinary, especially in a competition the size of the Six Nations.”
Another South African referee, Marius Jonker, tried to do the same as Joubert in the Scotland-England match, which ended in a boring 15-15 draw at Murrayfield. Nine penalty goals and a drop goal were the only scores on a day of shocking rugby, which was a dire indictment of both countries.
But Jonker was criticised afterwards for not being tougher on England. Three times he warned England captain Steve Borthwick that yellow cards would be used if the infringing did not stop. It didn’t, yet he didn’t use the sanction.
In Edinburgh, fear ruled. Neither side were prepared to take any chance or open up. Scotland played what little rugby there was, which wasn’t much at all.
England substitute Tony Flood, who replaced the injured Jonny Wilkinson, had a late chance to snatch an unjustified victory, but his penalty attempt fell short.
So, two trophies will be up for grabs on the final Saturday of the championship this weekend. France are on course for their first Grand Slam since 2004 after crushing Italy 46-20 in Paris on Sunday. They will win the title and a coveted Slam if they beat England under lights at Stade de France on Saturday evening.
The French ran away with the game against Italy, scoring tries at will throughout the match.
No.8 Imanol Harinordoquy started the landslide with a try after six minutes and they added two further tries by centre David Marty by halftime.
It was 22-3 at the interval and tries in the second half by Marc Andreu, Yannick Jauzion and Alexandre Lapandry pulled France well clear.
But two tries for Italy in five minutes by lock Carlo del Fava and substitute Pablo Cannavosio showed that their spirit remained strong. From 46-6 down, they fought back to 46-20.
But even if, as expected, France triumph this weekend, Ireland can win their fifth Triple Crown in seven years if they beat Scotland in Dublin.
Ireland set up that chance with a comprehensive 27-12 victory over Wales at Croke Park, outscoring Warren Gatland’s men three tries to nil. Wing Keith Earls got two and scrumhalf Tomas O’Leary the other.
Wales were a huge disappointment. They had far more ball than the Irish and made 187 passes, yet achieved only one line-break.
“We are very disappointed with the outcome and our execution,” Gatland admitted.