Law discussion: Did Wales cheat?
It is normal in rugby football for a team to get an advantage when their opponents lose a man to the sin bin. In this case, the opposite was true. The team whose player was yellow-carded, benefited.
Look at the score. It was 13-6 to the Welsh minors in coal grey, which may just be black, against the Lelos of Georgia in white. With under a minute left to play, their tighthead prop, Tomas Francis, was yellow carded for charging in at the side of a ruck to clear Giorgo Begadze away from the ruck.
Throughout the match, Wales had been under pressure from the Georgian scrum. The Welsh knew this and the Georgians knew this. But before we go further, we need to go back 24 minutes.
The Welsh props were both substituted. Tighthead Leon Brown and loosehead Nicky Smith trotted off the field, their places taken by Tomas Francis and Wyn Jones. The telling one in the context of the match will be Tomas Francis (24 caps) to replace Leon Brown (2 caps), a 21-year-old who had been suffering in the scrums against 27-year-old Mikheil Nariashvili with his 45 caps. Brown showed no sign of injury in his departure from the field.
At about 69 minutes into the match, Georgia was on the Welsh line. They had three five-metre scrums at which Wales were penalised. At the fourth scrum, Georgia was penalised and Wales got out of trouble.
Two penalties brought Georgia back to five metres from the Welsh line with time nearly up and the possibility of a draw with Wales on their own Principality Stadium in their own Cardiff was a great spur to the Georgians who have ambitions of being admitted to the Six Nations.
— BBC Sport Wales (@BBCSportWales) November 18, 2017
Georgia mauled from a five-metre line-out and then bashed closer and closer to the line. At this stage, Francis was sent off. Georgia opted for a scrum instead of the penalty. It was near the posts and a draw was distinctly possible if they could score a try.
Play stopped. It stopped for over seven minutes as the referee tried to sort out what could happen. Tighthead Brown was the obvious replacement for Francis, tighthead for tighthead, and Brown was seen limbering up on the sideline, looking about to come on.
Instead, it was decided that he had developed calf trouble and would not be able to come on. This meant that any scrum would have to be uncontested. A depowered scrum would reduce Georgia's scoring chances no end. Instead, they opted for the line-out, mauled, bashed and were penalised. Wales was saved.
There have been suspicions of playing unfairly, but let's look to the law, for the French referee was not appointed for his investigative capabilities but for his ability to apply the law.
Law 3 deals with the number of players in a team/squad and a great deal of it has to do with front-row players, which is understandable as it is an area where serious injury can occur, especially if a player in the front row is not suitably trained, especially for the specialised prop positions – loosehead and tighthead.
Law 3.5 is the one to read carefully. It says that if a team/squad has 23 players, as in the case of a Test match, there must be six of the 23 players capable of playing in the front row. In other words, a team should be able to substitute or replace its whole front row.
Wales had that – two looseheads (Smith and Wyn Jones), two tightheads (Brown and Francis) and two hookers (Kristian Dacey and Elliot Dee).
When Francis was sent to the sin bin, Wales could have had Brown back on as a suitably trained and experienced tighthead, but when the referee received a report that Brown could not play, the referee had no option but to insist on uncontested scrums.
Law 3.6 Uncontested scrums
(a) Scrums will become uncontested if either team cannot field a suitably trained front row or if the referee so orders.
(c) When a front row player leaves the playing area, whether through injury or temporary or permanent suspension, the referee will enquire at that time whether the team can continue with contested scrums. If the referee is informed that the team will not be able to contest the scrum then the referee will order uncontested scrums. If the player returns or another front row player comes on then contested scrums may resume.
Before the scrum could take place Dacey, the starting hooker returned to the match.
Law 3.6 (f) If, as a result of a front row player being temporarily suspended, another player has to be nominated by the team to leave the playing area to enable an available front row player to come on, the nominated player may not return until the period of suspension ends.
What the referee did was correct in law, procedure and commonsense.
In March this year, when France played Wales, there were suggestions that France had abused the law to bring back Rabah Slimani when their scrum was in trouble.
The matter was investigated by a Six Nations committee, which found no evidence of unfair play.
Will there be an inquiry this time? Probably unlikely.
By Paul Dobson