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Dublin: 10 °C Tuesday 22 October, 2019

Twitter pics, illegal angles and BJ Botha's problems with Wayne Barnes

The Munster tighthead found himself in a spot of bother at the scrum against Clermont last weekend.

EARLIER THIS SEASON, we took a look at a refereeing decision that went against BJ Botha and Munster head coach Anthony Foley’s subsequent unhappiness at that particular call.

BJ Botha Botha at Munster training in UL yesterday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Well, the tighthead prop got on the wrong side of a match official again last weekend against Clermont, as Wayne Barnes warned Botha that he was heading for 10 minutes in the sin bin if he did not begin to drive straight in the scrum.

Munster are adamant that is was, in fact, Clermont loosehead Thomas Domingo who was driving in on an illegal angle. The return match-up between the pair of props will be an intriguing element of Sunday’s second leg between the sides at Stade Marcel Michelin.

Firstly, it’s worth looking at the three decisions that went against Botha at Thomond Park last weekend, the first of which came after less than five minutes.

Barnes doesn’t give any verbal explanation for his decision below, instead appearing to gesture that Botha has lost his feet and needs to keep the scrum up next time.


Penalty two against Botha arrives on the 26-minute mark [below], Barnes stating, “Number three across and to floor.”

The English referee also says, “Gave you the opportunity to play it away, but you kept it at the back,” indicating that he would have allowed Munster to move the ball away even after he had spotted the infringement.


The third penalty against Botha in that first half came with 37 minutes on the clock [below], and Munster inside the Clermont 22.


This is when Barnes decides he needs to deliver a yellow card warning to Botha, although Munster captain Peter O’Mahony is straight across to underline his side’s grievances around the scrummaging of Domingo.

“You can see his feet setting up on that angle,” protests O’Mahony before Barnes cuts across the Ireland back row.

“You weren’t on that side of the scrum,” says Barnes, “let me tell you what I was seeing, ok?

The referee then addresses Botha, with O’Mahony standing beside the tighthead.

When the pressure comes on, on three occasions you’ve gone across the scrum and to floor or across the scrum and out,” states Barnes. “If you don’t stay straight, I’m going to put you in the bin. You understand? Thanks.”

Clearly, Munster were in a bad place at this point of the game, but they managed to turn the situation around after half time, to the extent that they could claim scrum ascendancy in the second 40 minutes.

Whether or not Munster spoke to Barnes at half time to get more clarity around the issue is unknown – Foley underlined the importance of scrum coach Jerry Flannery in the turnaround – but it is obvious that the southern province were unhappy with the refereeing in the first half.

“I thought in the scrums we did quite well to be honest with you,” says Foley. “Early in the game we were being judged harshly, and I think as the game developed we showed that we were a more dominant scrum than them.

“Some of that is down to the opposition and some of that is down to interpretation. We will hopefully have that cleared up going into this weekend, about what you can and cannot do.

“We want to get that right because obviously set piece is a big focus for both sides going into the weekend.”

PEN 2.1

Munster’s argument is that Clermont loosehead Domingo was consistently driving inwards on an angle, rather than straight as the laws of the game dictate he should. It’s a common trend in scrummaging at the moment, and something that referees don’t appear to be keen to ping.

Botha himself is no scrummaging saint, and certainly has an array of his own tricks at scrum time, but it does appear that Munster have a strong argument in this particular case.

Still, the second meeting between Botha and Domingo this weekend will be closely watched. Nigel Owens in the matchday referee this time around, and Foley is direct in what he is hoping for from the Welshman.

“You’d like to think that referees need to go into the game with a clear view of what they’re looking for – that’s props scrummaging straight,” stresses Foley.

“You’re not allowed to go in on an angle and when you look back on the video, their prop was hips towards the touchline and driving in that direction.

There isn’t a whole pile your tighthead can do if he’s getting that pressure coming from that angle. It’s just important that we do our best in terms of getting our point across. Hopefully we get a few fair calls.”

Curiously, Foley indicated that he believes Botha is something of an unfair target for criticism at scrum time. The former Ireland international referred to photos of the South African prop’s scrummaging being shared on social media, which did prove to be the case after we did some digging.

“I know there was a number of pictures sent around on Twitter of BJ and his scrum technique and all that,” says Foley.

“You feel it’s a bit unfair to be highlighting that and sending it to referees, but it’s something that we have to deal with. People look out for BJ and by the end of the game, they’ve turned around in his favour.

The tweet above appears to be what Foley is referring to, and was, coincidentally, sent to Owens early last month. Whatever about Botha’s binding, the images do underline the fact that there are so many possible infringements at scrum time.

As with our recent piece on the breakdown, it’s worth pointing out that making calls in high-pressure situations at the scrum is no easy task. With six front row players all attempting to dominate and a whole lot of weight behind them, there are countless offences for the referee to look out for.

Barnes’ “Gave you the opportunity to play it away” quote from earlier in this piece perhaps highlights the attitude to the scrum from some quarters – we simply want the ball out as swiftly as possible and let’s play.

Regardless, Owens is likely to have done his homework coming into this game, although the Welsh referee himself would underline the importance of not bringing any pre-conceived ideas about the front rows onto the pitch.

With supporters sending him tweets on Botha’s scrummaging and Foley appealing about Domingo’s angles, that is surely not straight-forward.

No pressure, Nigel.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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