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Wayne Barnes on crooked scrum feeds and the row about Italy’s missed penalty

Wayne Barnes Q&A live: Ask our rugby referee your questions
Wayne Barnes Q&A live: Ask our rugby referee your questions

After the third weekend of the 2024 Six Nations saw sloppy England beaten, Ireland destroy Wales and France hold Italy in controversial circumstances, there was plenty for referee Wayne Barnes to get stuck into in his live webchat with Telegraph readers.

On whether Italy should have been allowed to retake their last-gasp penalty miss, Barnes said:

The law book explains that the kicker has 60 seconds to take the kick from the moment they indicate their intention to kick at goal. It also says that if the opposing team infringes during the kick at goal and the kick is unsuccessful then the kick should be retaken 10 metres from the original mark.

The question for the match officials was whether the French team infringed and whether that infringement affected the kick at goal. There was no appeal from the Italian team or Paolo Garbisi, which would suggest to me that Italy didn’t feel as if the failed kick had been because of the French team.

Issues with the scrum were a popular subject with readers. On the introduction of a scrum clock, Barnes said:

The laws already state that teams must be ready to form the scrum within 30 seconds of the mark being made, so I think it is worth exploring the use of a ‘shot clock’ to ensure teams are ready to scrummage within that half a minute. Player welfare still must remain the referee’s priority and so there would be times when the scrum would have to be stopped if a front row player was injured or needed treatment.

I’d also love World Rugby to encourage referees to make decisions at the scrum, don’t wait for a reset, make early decisions. That would mean that teams, commentators and spectators would have to realise that this will mean a few more errors from match officials. Try watching a scrum and making a decision without a replay; it’s pretty difficult.

On making the game simpler for rugby fans and neutrals, Barnes said:

Every fan that I currently speak to says that referees should look for reasons not to blow their whistle. 

So that’s what I would do if I was in charge of international match officials. I’d encourage referees not to go looking for technicalities and allow the game to flow more. 

But as a fan, that means you have to buy into that too and not criticise a referee for missing a technical infringement which is only clear on replay!

To read more from our Telegraph columnist, read the Q&A below.


12:32 PM GMT

Thanks for your questions

That’s all for today. Many thanks for your questions and thoughts. We will be back again soon with another Q&A.

In the meantime, keep up to date with the latest rugby news, analysis and comment here.


12:30 PM GMT

Should the referee be stricter with caterpillar ruck?

From Paul Barker
Why are teams given so much time to form a caterpillar ruck and the referee not stricter with calling (and enforcing) “use it”?   

Paul, the referee will only call use it once it has been clearly won and is available to be played, the scrum-half then has five seconds to play it.

This week numerous stakeholders, including me, will be at a World Rugby conference discussing what the game should look like and I’m sure caterpillar rucks will be one of the topics on the agenda. I’ll report back!


12:21 PM GMT

Advice for an aspiring referee

From Jon Bunyard
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to anyone considering taking up refereeing to help out at their local club?

Give it a go, you might actually enjoy it. I was watching my daughter’s football team yesterday and one of the other dad’s was roped into refereeing the game.

He added so much value to the game by encouraging the girls, explaining his decisions and allowing 14 girls to enjoy a great game of football on a Sunday afternoon by keeping the game going. You could do that at your rugby club next Saturday or Sunday.


12:14 PM GMT

Into the closing stages of our Q&A

Last couple of questions coming up...


12:12 PM GMT

Can a kicker drop a goal at the start or restart of play?

From PJ Caroll
My seven-year-old son has asked whether a kicker can lawfully drop a goal at the start or restart of play…?! If so, has anyone ever attempted this?

In short, no, as a drop goal can only be scored in open play. But if your son can drop a goal from the halfway line already, Jonny Wilkinson watch out!


12:04 PM GMT

Why was Italy’s penalty not retaken after encroachment by France?

From Philip Grayson
The French players ‘charged’ and encroached within 10 metres during Italy’s last second penalty kick on Sunday. Why was the kick not taken again after it was missed?

I’m sure you were on the edge of your sofa like me yesterday afternoon and I couldn’t believe how unlucky Italy were when the ball fell off the tee.

The law book explains that the kicker has 60 seconds to take the kick from the moment they indicate their intention to kick at goal. It also says that if the opposing team infringes during the kick at goal and the kick is unsuccessful then the kick should be retaken 10 metres from the original mark.

The question for the match officials was whether the French team infringed and whether that infringement affected the kick at goal. There was no appeal from the Italian team or Paolo Garbisi, which would suggest to me that Italy didn’t feel as if the failed kick had been because of the French team.


11:56 AM GMT

Is there too much ‘coaching’ from referees?

From Dave Taylor
Do you think that there is too much ‘coaching’ from referees and that this is impacting the game? Surely professional players should know the laws and be penalised if they break them, and not be repeatedly warned, thus slowing up the game.

Everyone I talk to says that the best games are those that don’t constantly stop. A referee constantly blowing his or her whistle means the game is going to stop more.

By telling a player that they may be about to give away a penalty unless they stop, or reminding a player of the law with a ‘don’t touch the number 9’, allows a referee to keep the game going and gives us more rugby to watch.

So I always felt that this was extremely important. But if a player has already committed an offence which has had an effect, then a referee should obviously penalise that player.


11:49 AM GMT

How should clearing out rucks be refereed?

From William Morris
Ireland are known for clearing out rucks really quickly. But my comment is that they are going over the top off their feet when clearing the ball, which seems dangerous. How should this be refereed?

Ireland are so impressive at this aspect of the game, they deliver the ball for their scrum-half so that their attack can continue almost in a blink of an eye. I also think they are extremely well coached and legal.

They arrive with such dynamism that they win the contest over the ball and then go off their feet, which I don’t see as dangerous, just really good attacking play.

Remember what I said to Andrew (below at 11:19) ‘only penalise the attack at the breakdown if defence is squeaky clean’.


11:40 AM GMT

Why is feeding at the scrum not penalised?

From John Hope-Hawkins, Adam Kenton, Dr Arwel Edwards, Jimbo Jones, James Simpson, Alan Charles, Stephen Burnhope, Andrew Fanner, John Easton
Why is feeding at the scrum not penalised?

This is the question that referees get asked most often, it is usually followed up by being told ‘the scrum is no longer a contest’. I believe the scrum is still a massive contest and can still dictate the result of a match. Look at the foothold the French team got from their scrum in the game in Lille yesterday and we don’t need reminding about the Rugby World  semi-final in Paris.

Most teams hook the ball now, they want to get the ball back to the No 8 as quickly as possible, and the best way of doing that is to have a well-timed strike and a good relationship between the scrum-half and the hooker.

It’s worth reminding everyone that the scrum half doesn’t have to stand in the middle of the scrum anymore, as long as his or her shoulder is aligned with the middle of the scrum, they are legal. That means they are a shoulder width closer to their side of the scrum. And I think that is right. The opposition made a mistake, they knocked the ball on. The team putting in the ball therefore gets the advantage of putting the ball in. Some scrum halves do need reminding to ensure they are square to their scrum though.


11:33 AM GMT

Should free kicks for scrum infringements be introduced?

From Chris Rydale 
I find most, if not all, scrum penalties annoying when a minor event such as a knock-on can lead to a penalty which gives either a big advantage and sometimes a points scoring opportunity to, quite often, the infringing side. Do you think the game would be improved if a free kick for most, if not all scrum infringements, is introduced?

Depending upon where you live in the world and the strength of your scum, will dictate the answer to this question. A team with a strong scrum will say ‘Don’t depower it’. A team with a weaker scrum will say ‘Just give free kicks and get on with it’.

I think it’s also worth reminding ourselves that one thing that makes our game unique, is that it is truly a game for all shapes and sizes, so we shouldn’t depower the scrum to the point that we no longer need props. We wouldn’t say to Duhan van der Merwe stop running so fast, so it’s hard to say to a prop, stop pushing so hard.

There is an argument for saying that when a free kick is given at a scrum, then a team cannot take another scrum and have to tap the ball. But a series of scrum penalties can build pressure on a team and that is part of the fabric of our game.

But, as I mentioned to Freddie below, I’d love to see referees encouraged to add momentum to a game by making more decisions at scrum on the first occasion. We can then get the ball back in play and all watch a bit more rugby.


11:26 AM GMT

How to foster relationships with referees and captains?

From Henry Badger
Wayne, I was at the Rugby World Cup final and thought you did a magnificent job. What would you suggest to new captains on how to foster great relationships with referees?

Thanks Henry, it was truly a magnificent game to be part of and one that will remain with me until I go grey (well, greyer). It was also very special that my wife and kids were there to watch it too.

In relation to captains, whenever I speak to the England team about relationships with referees, I ask them how they would like to be treated. The answer is always the same ‘Speak to me the way you would like to be spoken to’. That is a great starting point.

Wayne Barnes Q&A live: Our expert rugby referee answers your questions

11:19 AM GMT

Why can’t all referees take the same approach to the breakdown?

From Andrew Cook
Why can’t World Rugby get all referees to take the same approach to the breakdown? We currently have some referees who favour an open game and keep the breakdowns quick with the ball flowing, while others favour defence which makes breakdowns messy and slow to the point that it’s like watching two completely different forms of the game.

It’s important to remember no game is ever the same. A game with jacklers like Tommy Reffell and Sam Underhill brings a lot more challenges for not only the referee but the opposition too.

International referees are asked to referee only the clear and obvious offenses, but I’d love World Rugby to really emphasise the message to their referees that they should only penalise the attack at the breakdown if the defence is squeaky clean.


11:12 AM GMT

Should a scrum clock be introduced?

From Freddie Hall
Do you think a scrum clock being introduced, where the clock stops after one minute, would allow for a safer scrum, less time being wasted and the crowd becoming less frustrated at the clock running during multiple resets?

The laws already state that teams must be ready to form the scrum within 30 seconds of the mark being made, so I think it is worth exploring the use of a ‘shot clock’ to ensure teams are ready to scrummage within that half a minute. Player welfare still must remain the referee’s priority and so there would be times when the scrum would have to be stopped if a front row player was injured or needed treatment.

I’d also love World Rugby to encourage referees to make decisions at the scrum, don’t wait for a reset, make early decisions. That would mean that teams, commentators and spectators would have to realise that this will mean a few more errors from match officials. Try watching a scrum and making a decision without a replay; it’s pretty difficult.

Wayne Barnes Q&A live: Our expert rugby referee answers your questions
An Italian player waits to feed the scrum during France v Italy - Getty Images/Sameer Al-Doumy

11:05 AM GMT

What would you do to make the game simpler?

From Mike Parkinson
Rugby Union has too many inexplicable laws now and the game is interrupted by too many whistles. I watch a lot of rugby and I have no idea at times what is going on, so casual watchers have no chance. What would you do to make the game simpler?

Great question Mike and you are like every fan that I currently speak to who says that referees should look for reasons not to blow their whistle.

So that’s what I would do if I was in charge of international match officials. I’d encourage referees not to go looking for technicalities and allow the game to flow more.

But as a fan, that means you have to buy into that too and not criticise a referee for missing a technical infringement which is only clear on replay!


11:02 AM GMT

How I would prepare to referee England

I never had to referee England in my 111 Test matches. Perhaps that’s why the English players and I have always had a good relationship … but I have refereed them numerous times for their Premiership clubs.

Click here to read Barnes’ notes about this current England team.


10:51 AM GMT

The three changes I would make to improve rugby

World Rugby’s match officials will have taken stock of last year, mused over some of the major talking points of the Rugby World Cup and they will have ensured that they are as prepared as possible.

But the emphasis on self-reflection and progress should not just be on the officials themselves. Clear guidance from World Rugby is also vital and here are some examples of changes that I would like to see which could lead to us all enjoying rugby more.

Click here to read Barnes’ manifesto to improve the game for fans, players and officials.


10:41 AM GMT

WATCH: France v Italy controversy

Among the topics up for debate will be this:


10:20 AM GMT

Barnes answers your questions

Good morning and welcome to a special live Q&A session with former international referee Wayne Barnes.

Debate over refereeing decisions has once again become a theme of this year’s Six Nations and, with that in mind, we are providing subscribers with the opportunity to put their questions to our Telegraph columnist Barnes.

Barnes spent nearly 30 years refereeing and established himself as one of the best ever to do the job. He retired at the end of last year with his last match being the Rugby World Cup final between South Africa and New Zealand, which included the sending off of the All Blacks captain Sam Cane.

Barnes is exclusively writing for us throughout the Six Nations and has already explained what he would change about the current laws, how he would prepare to referee the England team and his reaction to the second round of action, including the TMO controversy at the end of Scotland v France.

During the live session, Barnes will also reflect on the third round of Six Nations action, including some of its controversial moments from the weekend like what happened at the end of France v Italy when Paolo Garbisi missed a penalty in the last minute, denying the visitors a historic victory.

After the match, Marius Goosen, Italy’s defence coach, told Telegraph Sport: “If you look back at it now then definitely the kick should have been given again. But we all know in that pressure-cooker situation, as a referee, it’s not that easy to always make the right call. In hindsight, it should have been given again, but there are no complaints.”

What would Barnes have done? Click here to submit your questions to find out and a selection will be answered by Barnes at 11am. From queries about the laws in general to specific incidents, and questions about Barnes’s esteemed career, fire away with what you would like to know from our expert.