RWC23: Gregor Townsend questions decision not to cite Jesse Kriel

Head coach says suggestion that there is no head-on-head contact is wide of the mark

Gregor Townsend says he is very surprised that Jesse Kriel's challenge on Jack Dempsey during Sunday's World Cup clash was not cited. Image: ITV
Gregor Townsend says he is very surprised that Jesse Kriel's challenge on Jack Dempsey during Sunday's World Cup clash was not cited. Image: ITV

GREGOR TOWNSEND says he can’t fathom why South African centre Jesse Kriel’s challenge on Scotland No 8 Jack Dempsey in the opening minute of Sunday’s World Cup clash in Marseilles was not referred to a World Rugby Judicial committee by the Match Citing Commissioner.

The incident provoked lively debate on social media and in the traditional press during a weekend when England’s Tom Curry was sent off then subsequently slapped with a two match ban for a head-on-head contact with Argentina’s Juan Cruz Mallia.

Townsend – who acknowledged immediately after the match that the failure to sanction Kriel was not the reason his team had lost – is worried that a lack of consistency in the disciplinary process is undermining efforts to make the game safer.

RWC23: Stuart McInally replaces Dave Cherry in Scotland squad

Super Series: table-toppers Heriot’s celebrate loss of players to pro ranks

Schools & Youth Rugby: schools conferences kick-off while clubs take first step on Cup journey

“I was very surprised,” said the Scotland head coach of the decision not to cite Kriel. “For me, these are the types of tackles we have to get out of the game.

“I’ve been in working parties with other coaches where we have looked at high tackles, and high tackles with line-speed. If it was a tackle that didn’t end up with head contact, I’d still say it was a very risky tackle that we don’t want to see in the game.

“But there was clearly head contact and nobody is going to tell me there wasn’t. The player has told me, [and] I have seen the footage and the stills.

“So, yeah, it was very surprising to us that it never got highlighted at the time and as surprising that it wasn’t cited.”

World Rugby have made no official statement on the matter, but Rugby Pass – the website which is owned and operated by the global governing body – published an article on Tuesday that said: “To provide a clearer perspective on what the Citing Commissioner would have assessed, it is crucial to understand that they would have meticulously reviewed all available camera angles in both real-time and slow-motion. The ultimate aim would have been to ascertain whether there was clear and obvious foul play, specifically any instance of head contact.

“TMO [Television Match Official] Ben Whitehouse, who would have been tasked with alerting referee Angus Gardner should foul play have occurred, is understood to have dealt with it live during the match. Their assessment of the situation was that there was no clear and obvious foul play, which aligns with the standard set for such cases.

“The fact that no citing has since been made with the 36-hour window suggests that Whitehouse’s call has been vindicated by the citing commissioner.”


Dempsey was not seriously injured in the incident. He played on without undergoing a Head Injury Assessment and took a full part in training yesterday, but Townsend argued that it should be the act and not the outcome which is judged.

“I can only surmise that they felt that the head contact was not the main force; that the main force was through the chest,” he shrugged. “But there was head contact, our player said straight away that he had been hit in the head. After a few phases, there was a scrum, we had seen the incident and we said the same to the referee. He said he had to wait until the TMO came in.

“We put ourselves in the hands of the people watching. Unless our players roll around injured and get someone to come on to treat them, you trust the system.

“If they [World Rugby] are saying there was no head contact, it’s clearly not true. It came on the big screen, the angle that clearly shows it was head-on-head. It’s a scratch your head moment.

“That type of tackle is the one we want out of the game … upright, high speed and not in control. It could lead to a serious injury and we’ve got to protect the players. I’m thankful that it didn’t lead to a serious injury, but that shouldn’t be the determining factor in whether someone gets checked, penalised or carded for that tackle.”

Scotland returned to training today [Thursday] for the first time since their defeat to South Africa, with 32 of the 33-man squad in attendance, including Finn Russell who appears to be over the bang to his ribs he suffered on Sunday. Luke Crosbie – who has recovered from the rib injury he has been nursing for the last few weeks but was ill overnight – was the only absentee.

“Luke is on track, he’s just ill today,” said Townsend. “He trained on Tuesday morning with the physios. He’s now fully available for selection but overnight he had a stomach complaint so that’s why he wasn’t training today.

“The other two [Ewan Ashman and George Horne, who were both concussed during training last week] came through the session fine and their next stage is to add contact which will be tomorrow. Ali Price went off [the training pitch] as a precaution with a tight groin but I don’t think it will be anything serious.”

“That was a tough session, tomorrow’s will be tough again, and Sunday’s will be tough. We know we’ve got an opportunity now to push things a bit harder and then we get back into a normal Test week which starts on Tuesday for us,” Townsend added.

RWC23: Stuart McInally replaces Dave Cherry in Scotland squad

About David Barnes 3911 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. It wouldn’t surprise me if that idiot Whitehouse was fast asleep at the beginning of the game, or more likely, turned to stone because it was the world champions and it was the first minute.

    It seemed to me that the officials were looking more for reasons why it wasn’t an infringement rather than examine the obvious, that Kriel made contact with Dempsey’s head.

    I detest the double standards that officials often apply…my thoughts go back to the game in Paris on March, where the Georgian referee took 5 seconds to red card Grant Gilchrist, but then an absolute age to red car the French forward…as he spent so long looking for reasons not to do so.
    It was truly awful, excruciating refereeing.

    And he’s not unique in his interpretation of the laws, depending on the colour of jersey the player is wearing.

  2. Agree Al F – and despite the “seriousness” of the foul play perpetrated against him would also be waving his arms about like a demented windmill.
    How we will miss him…..

  3. I’m glad GT has come out and said this. The likes of Rassie, Eddie Jones, Gatland and Steve Hansen have always been prepared to publicly criticise officials and you know what! it works! Scotland, Italy and Tier 2 countries have always had a bias against them with refs and sticking to the official channels gets you nowhere!

  4. One might think that to cite after the event might be construed as criticism of the RWC officials and that’s not allowed. I read yesterday that TSAnalytical had two of their videos criticizing refereeing decisions at the RWC taken down by YouTube on the say so of the RWC people.
    Sorry RWC the refereeing has not been consistent enough , sort it out , do not ignore it.

    • Whilst I am on a World Rugby officiating rant, Uruguay on the end of some interesting decisions. Their first try was chalked off because their option receiver ran a straight line and collided with a French defender. The ref said he changed his line but he clearly ran straight. Also I wonder if Ireland will be pulled up on this in their match tomorrow – they do this blatantly every match. Then Uruguay got a penalty against for ‘contact off the ball’ when their defender stood his ground and the French attacker ran in to him. Bonkers.

      • We may as well face it that if we lose to Ireland, the likely main reason will be Irelands cheating. Or if you prefer, skirting the wrong edge of the law while the referees look the other way.

  5. Unfortunately with retrospective citing and probable banning of Kriel, the only beneficiary would be Ireland as he would most likely be unavailable to play against them

  6. What an odd situation. GT is spot on here.

    Why WR choose to send out a “statement” via a website rather than front up to this is concerning. Because make no mistake someone in the echelons of WR has made Rugby Pass the channel for their comms.

  7. There’s aye been a pecking order in world rugby when it comes to decisions. At present South Africa are well above Scotland. France are even further above Uruguay / French lock avoided red for a Farrell/Curry type challenge on a Uruguayan player. Fiji might also have something to say after their game with Wales. The “inconsistency” of refereeing diminishes the sport.

    For me the worse ever example was Joubert’s “incoherent” performance in the NZ v France 2011 final. France demolished the ABs but Joubert kept the men in black holding on time after time by failing to penalise them. It became an absurd spectacle which was less than sporting.

    Keep thinking it will get better but here we are in RWC2023 with a Scottish coach talking about weird officiating yet again – and I don’t blame him one bit.

    • Agree 2011 was shocking and there’s no appetite for change sadly. Rugby League officiating is lightyears ahead of union.

    • At least Ben Whitehouse spotted the head contact last night, which he missed twice in Scotland v SA. Why the yellow is not upgraded to a red is a mystery with no explanation. The process needs overhauled and incompetent officials must lose their accreditation and have to earn it back before they get to officiate another match. It all just adds to the narrative that the officials know which teams they need to get out of the groups.

  8. Sadly Erasmus despicable behaviour has now meant that SA can behave in any way they want on the park. Both Kriel and Allende should have been red carded / cited and banned. Imagine the lawyers running the current class action against World Rugby are having to bring extra staff to process all the evidence that is accumulating at the moment. Utterly clear player well being still isn’t even close to being a priority.

    • Yes I was thinking about Rassie Erasmus and the way he has intimated the officials. It had a big effect at the time and it continues to make them cautious about decisions against SA. Dempsey should have gone down….I like it that he didn’t as I’m old school. But we’ll never take that last step to become winners without replacing our naivety with a dash of the same cynicism/gamesmanship that “winners” apply to the sport.

Comments are closed.