France vs Wales drags on with accusations of George North 'bite' and refereeing conspiracy

James Corrigan
George North shows what he says was a bite mark to the referee - PA Wire

The 100-minute Test match looks set to rumble on for some time yet. The Six Nations disciplinarians announced on Sunday that they are investigating two controversial incidents which occurred during that extraordinary passage of injury time, with France very much on the rack.

Not only is there “scrumgate” to sort-out – the highly suspicious reintroduction of prop Rabah Slimani after two minutes of that 20-minutes  of overtime - as well as the bite mark on George North’s arm, but also  the verbal attack launched on Wayne Barnes by Yoann Maestri, in which the French lock questioned the English referees integrity.

Wales are most concerned by the Slimani affair and on Sunday were considering making further representations to the Six Nations committee. "What happened shouldn't ever happen again on an international rugby field," Rob Howley, the stand-in head coach, said.

"The process leading up to the change of the French tighthead, the way that occurred, we love our game too for that. It is hugely disappointing.

“You can hear Wayne Barnes ask him [Uini Atonio, who had initially replaced Slimani after 55 minutes] if he's okay, and the player says 'I've got a sore back, but I'm okay' and then the doctor comes on and the player goes off. The referee is told he needs an HIA. It wasn't his fault – he has listened to a medic. I don't know what can be done because it is about the trust between management and referee. “

Where Wales do believe France could be pulled up is if the claim can be proved that one of the coaches left the technical area to speak to the doctor as Slimani warned up.  Shaun Edwards, the Wales coach, reacted with particular fury at what they considered to be shameless intervention and, ultimately, exploitation of the HIA protocol.

Wales weren't happy about Rabah Slimani's reintroduction Credit: Getty images

“One of their coaches went outside the technical area, had a word with their doctor and within a minute, he went on and took their tighthead off,” Howley said.

"You are not allowed outside that technical area. But someone has come outside and the doctor has gone on to the field at a break in play. That is outside the laws of the game."

Slimani’s impact should not be underestimated. He is one of the world’s most renowned scrummagers and was one of the main factors why France kept on going to the set-piece as Barnes awarded the penalties.

In all, there were nine scrums in injury time and Barnes seemed certain to award a penalty try, particularly when Samson Lee – who wrote his own piece of dubious history by becoming the first player ever to be shown a yellow card in injury time in a Test match and still have time to be able to come back on for eight minutes – killed the ball on his line. But Barnes resisted and Maestri had a sensational reason why.

Sir Ian McGeechans Six Nations team of the tournament

“We were refereed like a small team and it's very painful. Barnes told me that we were not dominant enough in the scrum, but the Welsh were rigging every scrum,” Maestri said.

“Anglo-Saxon referees always talk about fair play but the reality is that they think we’re cheats. There’s a complicity between Anglo Saxons and it is in these moments that you realise it. It was unbelievable.”

The Six Nations will take a very dim view of those comments and Maestri should expect, at the very least, a fine. Brice Dulin, the French full-back, should steel himself for a ban if the citing officer can find evidence that he bit North. Barnes, himself, saw the bite mark and referred the incident to the TMO, but there was not sufficient evidence.

What hurt more, however, was Damien Chouly diving over after 99min and 55sec and the subsequent conversion which condemned Wales to their third loss in the campaign and fifth place in the table, their worst finish since the Warren Gatland era began 10 championships ago.

Maestri could be facing a fine for his comments Credit: Rex features

All they had to show for so much defensive effort in this scrappy encounter were six Leigh Halfpenny penalties. Wales’s lack of creativity was exposed, as it has been during the entire campaign and, indeed, for their last few seasons.

Saying that, they could and should have beaten England, before succumbing in the 76th minute, and this was another which got away. The players were stunned.  

“It’s tough to take, finishing fifth,” Justin Tipuric, the ever impressive flanker, said “We are better than that. We’ve had a few really close games this year that could have gone either way. Unfortunately, we’ve come out on the wrong side of the scoreline. The changing room was very quiet after the game.”

In contrast, France’s was booming and there was further celebration to be had on Sunday when it was revealed the proposed merger between Stade Francais and Racing 92 has been called off. But the next few days could see that bubble deflated.

Three things the Six Nations will be looking into

Slimani’s return

Did the French exploit the HIA protocol to get their best scrummager back on to the pitch in injury time? That will be almost impossible to prove, but they could still be in hot water if it is shown that one of their coaches left the technical area to consult with doctor while Slimani was warming up.

North’s bitemark

The Lions wing claimed Bryce Dulin had bitten him and on showing Wayne Barnes the evidence, the referee asked the TMO to see if there was conclusive video evidence. There was not, but the citing officer will have longer to peruse the tapes and a long ban could yet await.

Maetsri’s accusation

Wayne Barnes is one of the most respected referees in the world and the rugby union authorities do not want to get into a situation where the officials are accused of being “complicit” in some sort of Anglo Saxon conspiracy. The experienced lock must be fined and perhaps even banned for his incendiary post-match comments.

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