Gregor Townsend was left frustrated by a perceived inconsistency of officiating at the Rugby World Cup after South Africa centre Jesse Kriel escaped sanction for an apparent head-to-head collision with Jack Dempsey early in Scotland’s defeat to the Springboks.
Townsend’s side were beaten 18-3 in their opening pool fixture in Marseille in an early dent to their hopes of progressing to the quarter finals out of a competitive Pool B.
The game could, however, have been different had Kriel’s tackle been inspected further, with replays seeming to show the South Africa centre’s head making direct and forceful contact with Scotland’s Dempsey in the opening moments of the contest.
Both captain Jamie Ritchie and fly half Finn Russell looked to try to alert referee Angus Gardner to the tackle, but the moment passed without intevention from television match official (TMO) Ben Whitehouse.
And while Kriel could yet be cited, Townsend was surprised the given similar incidents earlier on the opening weekend of the tournament.
— ITV Rugby (@ITVRugby) September 10, 2023
England flanker Tom Curry was shown a red card on review after his challenge on Argentina’s Juan Cruz Mallia, while Chile captain Martin Sigren received a yellow card during the South Americans’ defeat to Japan.
“Yes,” Townsend admitted when asked if he was frustrated by the apparent inconsistency.
“I saw it from two screens away. It did look like it was a head-on-head collision and I was expecting the TMO to come in and make the referee aware of that.
“Last night, a red card didn’t change the game much in terms of Argentina’s favour, so who knows? There are still inconsistencies in seeing these things. We are frustrated by that. But we are more frustrated by our own performance.”
The high tackle process continues to dominate discussion on the first weekend of the tournament, with a revamped TMO bunker system and a series of high profile incidents in warm-up fixtures ahead of the World Cup already putting it in the spotlight.
Curry faces a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday evening to determine whether his sending off requires further sanction, with a ban certain if the red card is upheld.
Kriel could also appear in front of a panel if he is cited, which could put his involvement in South Africa’s remaining pool fixtures against Romania, Ireland and Tonga in doubt.
Regardless, former Scotland captain John Barclay believes it is “inexcusable” that the tackle was not looked at during hte game.
“The confusion is you hear captains speak to the referees and they say, ‘We are always looking’,” the ex-flanker explained on ITV. “You are two minutes into the game and we’ve got an incident that is a red card. It’s a red card.
“He comes from a distance, clear line of sight, no drop in height and he applies force. It’s head on head. That’s a red card. The way the game is refereed now, whether you like it or not, that is a red card. And we saw a very similar incident last night (with Tom Curry) which was given as a yellow then upgraded in the bunker to a red.
“This is where the game gets a bit messy as in these instances where they look very similar, yeah from slightly different positions from a kick or whatever, but that’s a red card. And the fact that has not even been seen or reviewed is inexcusable.”