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Six Nations 2024: Scotland 16-20 France – The Unjustice

Sam Skinner's Try That Wasn't - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports
Sam Skinner grounds the ball over the line as referee Nic Berry watches on - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports

Scotland

2024 Guinness Six NationsSat 10th Feb 2024Murrayfield, EdinburghKick-off: 2:15 pm (UK)16-20

France

Referee: Nic Berry (RA)| TV: BBC Sport

I’m well aware that’s not really a word, but it seems like the end of this game was an officiating travesty worthy of throwing the dictionary away for.

Ever since the dark days of ol’ George Clancy we have tried to no longer rail against the men and women in the middle. But how do we not bag the officials for this one?

This isn’t like Craig Joubert against Australia (and we got mad about that!). A whistle the other way in the outcome *might* have altered that result, who is to say. Joubert did not have the “benefit” of a TMO either.

This decision on the other hand, by referee Nic Berry and TMO Brian MacNeice one hundred percent decided the outcome of the game.

Yes, Scotland should have tailored their plans so the result was decided a little more in advance (see also: Wales), but at the end of the day they still did enough to win it by grounding the ball and scoring the winning try, yet the championship points went to France.

Scotland are right to query World Rugby over it, but after that there’s not much we can do. Nothing will come of it – they are going to back their men, right or wrong. Nigel Owens wouldn’t come down either side in his official World Rugby video about the weekend’s big decisions, and this was the biggest.

There are no rogue weather systems to sue which means we can only focus our outrage on the remainder of the tournament. Which I really hope they do as this team are capable of great stuff such as we saw during the first try after just seven and a bit minutes.

It was an excellent debut for Harry Paterson who played a vital role in that try with a lovely dummy and offload; let’s not forget he had little notice he would be making his test debut and while there was one notable pass that went astray it looked like the first of many caps for the young man in what was his ninth game of professional rugby.

Another much wiser head who went well was Grant Gilchrist, marshalling a much-improved lineout effort along with Scott Cummings and George Turner. He too had a moment of madness during the bleak spell between 40 and 60 minutes (that seems to be our current nap time in games) with a through-the-legs pass but otherwise he filled in well for big Richie at the set-piece.

The pick of Scotland’s team was Rory Darge who went brilliantly in the loose and in defence. Darge makes such a difference in terms of intensity, you can see him urging his teammates on and playing with the controlled ferocity that Scotland’s pack often misses. Andy Christie only played the second half as Matt Fagerson went off injured but as destiny slowly chips away at our back row depth, surely now he has done enough to start against many players he’s familiar with.

Even during that period when everyone was just standing around while Finn and Ramos kicked things and Penaud dropped things, Scotland looked calm and in control.

This was a new sub-genre of “brave” Scotland loss – they don’t usually come after a game that has seen scoreboard dominance for most of it, with 100% goal-kicking and world-class tries.

Well okay: the quality of try we are used to.

Of course, we are also heartily sick of brave losses in general, and there are a few things that Scotland could work on for the England clash in two weeks to make sure that they get over the line with more certainty.

Firstly, never take the scrum twice in a row. Back yourselves sure, to a point – but just remember we’ve been watching Scotland longer than some players have been alive. Backing any referee to see things the way of a Scottish scrum more than once in succession is a bigger gamble than Brexit.

Secondly, when your 10 -12-13 axis is so good and you also have one of the world’s best finishers in Duhan van der Merwe on the wing, stop the forward pick-and-goes. You can see the frustration in the backs when Duhan becomes ensnared as an extra forward because he’s looking for the ball, then gets held up by last-ditch defenders (again, see Wales when Horne should have gone left).

Give the man a run up! Both he and Sione Tuipulotu excel in breaking the gain line; Huw Jones cuts lines off 10/12 that famed Hollywood producer Don Simpson would have been proud of. When the gain line is also the try line, Scotland are not giving themselves enough of a chance to get over it when it really matters.

Grounding it, of course, is another problem.

17 Responses

  1. Words failed me , however I think you have managed to scribe eloquently, what most be one of the weirdest incidents I have ever witnessed in International Rugby.

    1. It was a poor decision, clearly a try however they should have put it to bed earlier they dominated most of the time, I’m a neutral spectator.

  2. Well put. Sincerely hope it’s not the end of it and some smart lawyer is preparing a challenge, even if only for the sake of tv and that it’s “all to play for” by the time of the final Netflix episode. Especially now WR have refused to answer.

    1. NS : For me’no answer’ is an answer. WR can not compromise referees. Respect for referee’s sets our game aside. In my opinion any unbiased oberver , from any nation , would recognise that a try was scored. It is my opinion that the reasons it was not awarded need review and I would prefer it if a Referee in this situation , in the future, was free to review his on field decision.

  3. I struggle with the VDM bit Rory.He’s too upright for run ups..no dip.Sure, his size bulk pace girn gets him places but technically he’s shabby.The ball is often high on his shoulder instead of in the gut,it’s a long way to the ground from there ..ample time for ball-tacklers to move in.

    1. The situation Rory described was in the red zone and 1 on 1 , very few would strip VDM of the ball. I will admit, I have seen him lose the ball, I recognise that, but so can others. He is an asset in my opinion but respect your wisdom and insight, thanks for sharing.

  4. Excellent analysis. What I find surprising is that no pundits or commentators have mentioned that France no.19 looks at where Berry is standing and then comes in from the side (illegal) and drops his massive arm to the ground to block Berry’s (and the cameras’) view of the ball being grounded. This was a very cynical act and should have been penalised. If this was deliberate then it won France the game, albeit unfairly.

    1. So can’t you come in from the side when the ball has crossed the try-line? Or can you, because there is no longer an offside line?

  5. Big question as to why Berry initially made the call “held up”. You can see from where he is standing, the view he has, how low Skinner is that there is a good chance the try has been scored. Fair enough he can’t see a grounding, but it’s crazy to say “held-up” with the confidence he said it with. Never mind the crazy TMO decision, how has the question not been “try or no-try” I see no justification at all for held-up. A disgraceful chain of events from both the ref and the TMO. Absolutely baffling.

    1. Exactly this. after seeing the still of Berry looking directly at the ball on the ground, how he didnt come to the conclusion of ‘it was initially held up and then appears to be grounded’ was bemusing. also there were were about 3 offsides that were ignored in those last phases (same as wales the week before). Defenders standing well beyond the tryline (which was the offside line) and soaking up the pick and go’s.
      WR would have been criticised either way. Back the ref and look stupid for backing a bad decision, or throwing their ref under a bus. they chose the former.
      that said, we need to be more ruthless in those situations. dont know about anyone else, but i never feel confident when they go into pick & gos. always feel it is a matter of time before we fumble, allow a turnover, etc. Want Finn to look at the other options a bit quicker.

  6. Having finally calmed down I think the conclusion is that the ref and TMO both bottled it. The TMO said “there it is on the ground” (or something to that effect) and Berry asked “ok so I can change my on field decision?” that meant Berry was happy to change his on field decision and presumably also thought it looked like it was pretty dead cert it was on the ground, but the TMOs bottle went and he hunted around for some more angles that didn’t offer anything. He then said I cant find anything definitive (or something to that effect) and then Berry bottled it by not saying, “hang on, that’s not what you said a minute ago lets pull the one up that pretty much shows the ball on the deck again”, “yeah mate that’s on the deck, agreed?, try awarded”

    If they had done that I don’t think anyone would have criticised it (apart from the French). That all said I’m still not blaming the ref and TMO for costing us the match, our own inability to take the points on offer did that. Just watched Squidges video which sums it up very well, as ever. I don’t think we are used to leading games and being in control, if you are 7-10 points in front i.e. not much then taking the 3 points is the best thing to do, the scoreboard is what puts pressure on the opposition and when a 10 point lead quickly becomes 16 then it is an entirely different game, then you can start pining them into the corner and ramping up the pressure safe in the knowledge you can give away a converted try and still be fine.

    It’s a strange scenario I think for the team, we have obviously been not too bad in recent years have scored lots of tries and won lots of games but a lot of them have been down to moments of individual or collective brilliance and genius rather than the tactics being spot on and just plain dominating the game. The last two games I would say we had the game plan to comfortably win both and were doing so for a large part of the match, but for some reason we let both teams in and they turned it to playing the game on their terms rather than ours. At the weekend it was the kicking game, I’m not going to slag off Russell, I think it was case of two teams who are very good at it taking each other on and it was fascinating but the French got the upper hand. It all comes back to taking the chances, if that was a 12-15 point game rather than 6, France wouldn’t/couldn’t have done that, they wouldn’t have had the patience. They would have had to have gone full France, it might have worked of course and they might have ran in a couple of worldies from their own half and deservedly won the game but they don’t like pressure and I don’t think they would have.

    I’m clearly still not over it. England will be interesting. I said last year they aren’t as bad as everyone thinks they are, there’s a performance in that team somewhere it just needs unlocking. They are a team that has an annoying habit of winning games in spite of how terribly they play at times, I don’t think binning Marcus Smith has done them any harm at all. Don’t forget they almost beat the boks (I was actually cheering them on with great vigour during that game, should I feel bad about that?).

    1. I agree mostly with your first paragraph apart from the fact that Berry put it all on the shoulders of the TMO and completely washed his hands of the footage review. The TMO got spooked when Berry made it clear he was going to change his mind solely based on the TMO’s grounding claim. I suspect the TMO was hoping Berry would ask to see the footage which caused the TMO to suggest it had been grounded but he didn’t. I agree that in the end both bottled it.

    2. Dear 1.8T, I agree 100% with each of your points/paragraphs.
      Pretty sure Nic Berry wanted to change his mind if only McNiece gave him an excuse to. He’s a very good ref but mistakes can be made in rugby but only the ref has a chance to remedy his.
      Our leaders should know by now that putting pressure on by way of the scoreboard is a surefire way to get the opposition to try and play free flowing rugby – our sort of game. As you say, France could have still won but we would have had a hell of a game.
      As ever, worried about England. But this year it may be because they have yet to show their best.

      One last thing, for those of you that habitually blame the ref (and I’m not saying he was right) – watch “The Whistleblowers” (RugbyPass TV). It puts things into perspective.

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