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Ref review: How accurate were the big calls in Ireland's defeat to the Wallabies?

Marius van der Westhuizen had some big decisions to make in Brisbane.

THIS IS THE second piece in The42‘s new series of referee reviews, in which we will be looking at the good and questionable refereeing decisions in the biggest fixtures in order to build our understanding of the laws of the game.

Check out our first article on the Champions Cup final for more information on the series.


Australia had an 18-9 win over Ireland in last weekend’s first Test at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, with the Wallabies scoring two tries, one conversion and two penalties.

All of Ireland’s points came through penalties.

Marius van der Westhuizen Marius van der Westhuizen was the man in the middle. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The breakdown was a messy and often illegal contest, with both sides guilty of infringements as they competed for turnovers.

Referee Marius van der Westhuizen awarded 21 penalties in total, with Australia giving up 11 to Ireland’s 10.

Television match official Ben Skeen was involved in several of the most important decisions in this game.

75:56 – Dissent, Off-the-ball, Hands in the ruck

Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray is penalised for dissent.


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The ruck is extremely slow before Murray knocks-on at the base, then loses his temper, shouting, “How can he stay on the ball that long? How long? How long? Look at the fucking time!”

Van der Westhuizen is saying, “Please relax” as Murray speaks, before he hears the curse, blows his whistle and signals a penalty under Law 9.27:

9.27 Source: World Rugby

Referee’s view:

“Players can’t curse at referees and this penalty is correct on those grounds.

“But we need to look at what adds up to the slow ball and knock-on here. As Green 18 looks to get in support of Green 12, he’s held back by Gold 7 for more than two seconds and this has to be sanctioned.


“The pullback delays Green 18′s clearout at the breakdown ahead and this kind of play off the ball was a trend in the second half. The ‘team of three’ match officials needed to be better at spotting this.

“When the ball is in the ruck, Gold 16 clearly slows it down off his feet and it should be a penalty to Green here.


“But both of those offences are missed and the reaction of Green 9 does warrant a penalty.”

42:16 and 60:25 – TMO

Ireland have a possible try ruled out in the 43rd minute after CJ Stander crosses and attempts to finish.


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Van der Westhuizen calls on his TMO, asking “try or no try?” and Skeen says “the footage is inconclusive, so the outcome is an attacking scrum.”

Later in the game, the Wallabies have a try disallowed for a tackle off the ball by Adam Coleman on Iain Henderson prior to the score.

Van der Westhuizen has awarded the try to Israel Folau but Skeen calls in, “Marius, I want to show you… the situation is foul play, a tackle on a Green player by Gold 5 when Green is not in possession.”


Click here if you cannot view the clip above

Van der Westhuizen views the footage above and replies, “Ben, it’s pretty clear to me there that it’s back on the 10-metre line, a player not in possession of the ball being tackled. My decision at the moment is to overturn the try and go back for a penalty against number 5.”

Skeen: “That is correct, 5 Gold.”

Wallabies captain Michael Hooper argues, “There’s no effect on the try though.”

Van der Westhuizen says, “The reality is it’s still foul play” and awards the penalty under Law 9.14:

9.14 Source: World Rugby

Referee’s view:

“The match officials handled both of these reviews well, for me.

“In the first incident, the referee has not had a clear view of any possible grounding and the assistant ref actually says ‘it looks held up to me,’ so asking ‘try or no try?’ is fair.

“To ask ‘is there any reason I cannot award the try?’ the on-pitch officials need to be close to certain that there has been a grounding. On review, the TMO cannot be certain the try was scored and the decision is fair.

“One interesting question I think Green captain could have asked here is around the tackle by Gold 11, whose grabs Green 8 by the shoulder. The law says that tackling an opponent “above the line of the shoulders” is dangerous.

Law 9.13 Law 9.13 Source: World Rugby

“In the second example, the incident in question takes place five phases before the possible try for Gold.

“Match officials are entitled to go beyond two phases before the try if there is potential foul play involved. Gold 5 clearly tackles Green 4 off the ball and this is a penalty offence, no matter where or when it takes place.

“It’s very good TMO work and the process was very well delivered by the team of officials.”

67:37 – Scrum penalty

Ireland have the put-in to a scrum five metres out from their tryline and van der Westhuizen awards Australia a penalty.


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There is no verbal or physical communication of the offence from van der Westhuizen after he blows his whistle, so it is unclear what infringement he is penalising.

Referee’s view:

“This is a High-Impact Decision (HID) in the game and I feel it was incorrect.

“Watch the actions of Gold 17, on the loosehead side. His first three steps are out to the side and the scrum wheels around

“The referee needs to ask himself the question, ‘Why would the defending team, five metres out from their tryline and with the put-in, wheel the scrum?’

“For me, the referee has got this wrong and it is a major decision in the context of the scoreboard, as Gold kick the penalty for an 11-9 lead at an important time in the game.

“In my view, the scrum should have been reset here, with the referee saying there was a lack of stability before the ball went in and gone to the other side to speak to the props there.”

9:41 and 61:48 – Straight off feet

Ireland conceded four penalties relating to the ruck in this game, while the Australians were penalised six times.

Below, the referee’s view examines the consistency of the decisions in this area of the game.

Referee’s view:

“The decision below is excellent by the referee, as Gold 5 goes straight off his feet to seal the ball off and prevent a contest.

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Click here if you cannot view the clip above

“But then later in the game, we see Green 16 doing something very similar [in the clip below] and it is not penalised.


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“In this clip, Green 16 goes off his feet to pin Gold 6 and not allow the contest, which is a penalty for me.”

45:06 and 49:56 – Turnover penalties

Referee’s view:

“As Green 13 falls through the first tackle attempt here, the referee says ‘No tackle, no tackle,’ so Green 13 looks to get back up and continue carrying.


Click here if you cannot view the clip above

“Basically, Gold 6 is the tackler here and never releases after bringing Green 13 fully to ground but Gold are awarded the penalty. This is the wrong decision in my view and the penalty should have been in favour of Green.

“The second clip below shows an example of a good penalty decision in this area.


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“In this second clip, Gold 21 has not been involved in the tackle and is entitled to attack the ball.”

70:19 – Playing the ball in the ruck

Australia kick in behind Ireland and Jacob Stockdale retreats to gather in the ball, before he is tackled by Marika Koroibete.

Three Wallabies arrive over Stockdale but he works back to his feet and picks up the ball.


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Van der Westhuizen awards a penalty to Australia, signalling that Stockdale has used his hands to play the ball in a ruck.

Johnny Sexton, Ireland’s captain at the time, appeals, ‘It’s only a tackle, he released the ball, he released the ball.”

Van der Westhuizen replies, “The ruck is formed over him, he can’t play it there, the ruck is formed over him.”

Referee’s view:

“Gold score a try from this penalty and it is another HID in the game. I don’t agree with this decision.

“Look at the actions of the gold players arriving over Green 11. They are straight off their feet. Also, where is the Irish player to form the ruck?

“The law book says, “A ruck is formed when at least one player from each team are in contact, on their feet and over the ball which is on the ground”.

“No Irish player commits to forming a ruck and therefore Green 11 is entitled to get back up from a tackle-only situation and pick the ball up again.”

What did you make of the big decisions and the refereeing overall last weekend?

We would ask that people hold back from personal or overly harsh criticism, but let us know your take on the incidents above or any others from last weekend’s game. What was well done by the refereeing team and what could have been better?

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