Nigel Owens and Mike Ross fight Tadhg Furlong's corner after rough ride
"We haven't had a completed scrum yet."
We were nearing 55 minutes played, during England's Six Nations clash with Ireland at Twickenham, and Tadhg Furlong was throwing his arms into the air again.
It has been seven years since the Leinster tighthead made his Test debut and he has come up against the very best looseheads in world rugby. He has generally come out on top, or negated the opposition loosehead at worst. He rarely gets bested.
Against Ellis Genge, he had a nightmare. It was not all his doing, and some of the calls were rough, but it was still a nightmare.
French referee Mathieu Raynal blew his whistle for the first seven of the matches scrums. Four penalties were awarded to England, one to Ireland and there was a free kick awarded to both sides. Up in the commentary booth, with ITV, former England captain Lawrence Dallaglio was exasperated. He was not the only one.
Whatever Ellis Genge, Jamie George and Kyle Sinckler were up to, it was working a treat. When Will Stuart replaced the concussed Sinckler, the English dominance remained. Ireland won the first scrum penalty and it went rapidly downhill after that.
Many French referee's - as evidenced in the Top 14 and Test matches - often side with what they feel is the dominant scrum. They so not fret much about the ins and outs, they see one side get on top and whistle accordingly. To the rugby fans, and players, that only have a passing interest in the intricacies of front row dark arts, it looked as though Genge was feasting on Furlong.
To a couple of lads that spent their whole careers at the coal-face, it was not quite as one-sided as Raynal was reffing it:
Ireland’s Scrum engage is off. Cian should move his foot back on the bind, to get in better shape for the engage. #RugbyOnNBC
— Alex Corbisiero (@AlexCorbs) March 12, 2022
Not really understanding the scrum decisions. Whole thing is just wheeling around, no clear dominance#ENGvIRE
— Mike Ross (@MikeRoss03) March 12, 2022
Nigel Owens weighs in
To Mike Ross, who preceded Tadhg Furlong in that Ireland tighthead spot, England were wheeling around and Genge was not going straight on in the engagements.
Furlong could be heard claiming similar to Raynal and, when the ref waved him off, both Johnny Sexton and Peter O'Mahony tried their best. Raynal, who had sent off England lock Charlie Ewels after 82 seconds, listened to their side of the story but kept whistling for the hosts.
It was only when that seventh scrum came up, with the game heading towards the final quarter, that the referee finally told both Furlong and Genge what he wanted to see. He asked Furlong to hold the bind for longer, before engaging, and he asked Genge not to take a step outside before he engaged.
Both props did as instructed, only for Cian Healy to crumple. Another England penalty, inside their 22, and pressure relieved. Healy was soon replaced by Dave Kilcoyne and Rob Herring came on for Rob Herring.
In the end, with both sides (and fans) making bullish claims, it was left to Welsh referee Nigel Owens to give his experienced take on matters:
I agree with Mike. Couple of PKs to England were correct but Ireland should have had at least two aswell because England illegally ran it round in my view.
— Nigel Owens MBE (@Nigelrefowens) March 13, 2022
'I was at the game so didn't have the benefit of replays,' Mike Ross replied, 'but this would be my view on it also. A number of legitimate penalties, but several that weren't.'
Some form of vindication for Furlong, and the Ireland front row, but they will ask themselves was there anything else they could have done to sway Raynal. Ireland won the day, but it has been some time since we have seen them up against so much in the scrum.
Fans calling for Tadhg Furlong to be sent off
There was another incident involving Furlong that rubbed some English fans up the wrong way.
It came early in the game, in the lead-up to a Caelan Doris try that was later chalked off for an Irish knock-on.
Henry Slade rushed up to try intercept a Jamison Gibson-Park pass and, just as he got a hand on the ball, he ran smack into Furlong and was splayed. Raynal signalled for an Ireland penalty, but several England supporters wanted the Ireland prop carded.
Well, if they're not going to give a red for this while looking right at it.... I expect no yellow either. What's happened to officiating in rugby? So woefully inconsistent pic.twitter.com/jnR2O81bIz
— Tim White (@TimWhite40) March 12, 2022
From that footage, and without replays of other angles, it does look as it Furlong was just holding his ground and Slade clipped him as he rushed forward.
Furlong leans to his right and Slade cops it, but there is nothing definitive in that footage.