RWC23: South Africa v Scotland reaction: Gregor Townsend frustrated by lack of consistency

Head coach and prop Jamie Beattie can't understand why head collision between Jack Dempsey and Jesse Kriel was not reviewed by TMO

Gregor Townsend. Image: © Craig Watson -
Gregor Townsend. Image: © Craig Watson -

SCOTLAND head coach Gregor Townsend has expressed surprise and frustration at a perceived lack of consistency in the way head-on-head collisions are being handled by match officials. 

Speaking after his team’s 18-3 loss to South Africa in their opening match of their World Cup campaign, Townsend questioned why a first minute collision between South African centre Jesse Kriel and Scotland No 8 Jack Dempsey was not reviewed by the TMO.

“I saw it from two screens away and it did look like it was a head on head collision and I was expecting the TMO to come in to make the referee aware of that,” said Townsend.

Asked if he thought this was a game-changing moment, Townsend replied: “Who knows? If it had been a red card … we had a red card on Saturday night [shown to England flanker Tom Curry] and it didn’t help or change the game in terms of Argentina’s favour, so who knows?

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Pressed on whether he was frustrated by the inconsistency, he replied: “Yes. We had a promising attacking position outside the 22 and then the TMO came in for a body check, Finn Russell tired to get the ball and it wasn’t a traditional tackle but I don’t know how that ended up being a penalty, so, yes there are still inconsistencies in seeing these things.

“Whether TMO did see it, it was on the replay in the first half, so it is just inconsistency over what is a red card, a yellow card or a penalty when there has been a head contact, so I’m frustrated by that but I am more frustrated by our own performance.

“I am really disappointed, we were slow to get going in the first half and there was a bit of inaccuracy in our play,” he continued. “We built into the game and I felt physically we were more than up for the challenge which comes from the way they play.

“We started to win penalties at scrum-time which was a real bonus. There were opportunities  – not many in our attacking game but there were a couple in the first half, and we spoke at half-time about the need to build on the way we finished that second quarter.

“But we started with a bit of inaccuracy and then South Africa dominated possession for a period, took their points and it then became difficult in those conditions, against that defence, to play from deep and it became risky, and we never had the accuracy to really trouble them on the scoreboard.”

Scotland’s best scoring opportunity came when Russell sent Darcy Graham through a gap during the first half, and the winger opted not to pass to the support on his outside.

“It was a great dummy and he got through but maybe didn’t realise someone was coming from behind,” said Townsend. “We should have done better after that. If you don’t score straight away on first phases then you’ve got to be accurate and be able to go through phases, and turn that pressure into points in a different way.

“We didn’t get enough attack in the opposition half but the plan is always to transfer pressure through our kicking game through winning better ball back through our kicking game, but also attacking space through our passing game. But that space wasn’t there enough in the second-half.

“There were a couple of overthrown line-outs but that’s Test match rugby where we are looking to win the ball at the tail of the line-out and it’s a matter of millimetres. One hit a hand and another went  over the top and it meant we don’t get the chance to go through attack phases and put pressure on and we know we can be better there.

“Accuracy in attack and in defence [has to improve]. We would be relatively satisfied with the effort which went in but I still think there is more in us with that. Our attack in general starts from our set-piece, winning possession and what we did when he had that possession has got to improve. We only scored three points and that is unusual for us.”

Russell suffered a rib injury during the first half but played on and Townsend doesn’t expect him to be an injury doubt going forward.

“It did look like he was coming off initially as he he had a rib injury which seemed like it was going to stop him from continuing but he dug deep and he fought really hard,” said the coach. “I thought some of his defensive work in the second half was outstanding and it just shows how much he cares about his team-mates and playing for Scotland.”


Meanwhile, Jamie Bhatti says he can’t understand why the Kriel-Dempsey incident was not reviewed by Ben Whitehouse, the television match official.

“I saw it and, in my opinion, it should have been reviewed,” said the loose-head prop, who played the final 25 minutes of the match as a replacement for Pierre Schoeman.

“Look at the red card that happened here on Saturday night [when England flanker Tom Curry was sent off for a similar collision with Argentinean full-back Juan Cruz Mallia]. “I know it didn’t change that game as it turned out, but you need to be consistent with calls like that.

“That’s the main thing. You can’t red card someone for the same thing on Saturday night then this one doesn’t even get looked at.

“In my opinion, you have to be consistent. Jack [Dempsey] is not happy. You can imagine what he’s like in the changing room. That could have changed the game. It didn’t change the England game on Saturday night, but you never know what could have happened.

“You would have that one-man advantage and it could change the game completely.”


Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie backed his team to bounce back from the loss. “I’m really proud of how we fronted up physically but our accuracy at times just wasn’t there,” he said. “Full credit to South Africa, they put us under a lot of pressure,m and we didn’t execute well enough It’s all things we can control, like a missed call in the line-out off the top of my head. These are things that are in our control and easy to fix.

“As a group we still feel we’ve got a lot to play for in this group. It’s obviously three massive games now where we can’t afford to slip-up so the pressure is on us to perform.

“Like I said to the guys afterwards, although we’ve put a lot of work into this game and it’s a bit of a setback in terms of the results, the good work we’ve done over the last couple of months hasn’t disappeared, it hasn’t gone away.

“So, if we get back to our process, we’ll be looking to hit the ground running in a couple of weeks’ time.”
Scotland now have a two-week break before their next match against Tonga in Nice on 25th September.

“It gives guys some time to spend some time with their families who have made the journey out, a little bit of time to switch off and get away from rugby, so in that way it’s probably a little bit of a blessing,” said Ritchie.

“It also means that when we come back together in a couple of days’ time, boys should be a bit better recovered and ready to hit the ground running with our training and our review and preview into our next game.

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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. If underperforming players can be “hooked” by their coaches, why not referees?
    There must have been a referee “spotter”. No point in addressing an issue after the game.

    • I would say there is every point addressing issues after a game to ensure the same mistakes (if they were) aren’t repeated.

  2. South African forwards were too powerful.
    Ireland will try do the same, and this game reminded me quite alot of our game against them in the ’23 6N, although we probably played better.

    It’s a traditional problem for Scotland. I don’t have magical solutions and it’s probably related to player numbers and the way we play the game and values we aspire to at grass roots, but most Scotland sides are short of a bit of grunt.

    You are unlikely to win a game if your opponents carry the ball twice as far as you do, and that’s exactly what SA did.

  3. Let’s not even start on the TMO debate, for we were well beaten and that score-line could have been a lot worse. If we are honest and want to get to the heart of it, there it is. What did we ask for before the tournament started? An 80-minute effort. The fact is that we fluffed our lines – like we usually do when it really matters. Darcy not passing that ball was unforgiveable. Too much talk about whether he or Duhan will get Hoggie’s try record, when what matters is teamwork. There is a lot of chat also about this being the greatest Scotland team ever, but it needs to be backed up by performances that count. We all remember 84, 90, 91 and 98. So far in this professional era we’ve won diddly squat. Meanwhile other small nations like Ireland have embraced change, moved on and proved what can be achieved. Beating them is our final opportunity in this World Cup of proving that we are more than just gallant also-rans. Eighty minutes please, and no more whining about frustration, refs or TMOs.

    • Completely agree with all the comments -too many players believing their own hype and getting carried away. It is time they delivered a performance without excuses.They are nowhere near the best Scottish team but they are world class in talking themselves up.

  4. If anything there was more mitigation in the Curry tackle than the Kriel one. Still would have been an almighty challenge to beat SA with 14, but World Rugby need to have a good look at how that decision was made. As others have said elsewhere, the Fiji no penalty try was pretty inexplicable too.

    • Would have been 13 if Allende forearm smash on White was looked at and the late hit on Finn should have been a yellow. TMO and ref should be stood down. We need to spend less time on photo ops and more on basics. Lineout throwing is a repeatable skill. It didn’t look as if there had been any skills prep at all. We never learn our lessons and the extension for GT looks incredibly generous.

  5. If our players and coaching staff are aware of a head on head why are they not sending the medical staff on to look at the player and highlight the incident to the ref/TMO?

  6. Apart from the incident mentioned, Scotland was not up to the same standard as South Africa as they were squeezed and under pressure for most of the match. South Africa are not the World Champions for nothing.

    • I don’t think anyone disputes that. It also isn’t the point.

      The high tackle framework is controversial enough but if it can’t be applied consistently it becomes a farce. That was a stone cold red every day of the week.

      SA well worth their win and I’m not sure if even France can stop them.

  7. I think hanging on to the ludicrous inconsistency of TMO or Referee as any sort of factor isn’t really a factor. The fact is we didn’t play well enough, sorry but we can play so much better, but SA are expert at stifling ability of the opposition and ‘playing the system’ such as Semaphore or Aldis Lamps from the Coaching staff up in the Stands. It’s bad enough with Erasmus sending on the Water Bottle carriers to slow the game without other factors the officials take no notice of.
    I said in a previous comment that we only had a chance against the Bokka if we got them cold: well I thought we got them ‘Tepid’ in the first half but as ever even at that we didn’t make a good start, when will we learn the importance of ‘Receiving’ at KO or restarts, and then good grief we butchered 3 lines-out, if not more.
    We were never going to find it easy but then in the second half two quick tries were the ‘Killer’ and far too many basic mistakes the worst perhaps was Darcy Graham not passing with the two outside.
    On this basis our only hope is Ireland taking us for granted, and that apart we have to put a shed load of points on the other sides and sneak past Ireland, I don’t need a massive win, One Point will do.
    I don’t think it’s a good idea to change Skipper in midstream, but Russell’s rather clumsy collision apart I think he would have been diplomatic enough to point out SA’s infringements to the Ref.
    Which brings me to the question what was the difference between the head on head with Dempsey and the Red card for Curry yesterday?

    • I don’t think we caught them ‘tepid’ in the first half, I think we just performed a sometimes magnificent rear guard action. However, in the second half our set piece disintegrated and the SA squeeze told.

      The game went exactly as I expected which isn’t a shock at all. They are the world champions, #2 in the world, in rich form after hammering the ABs and had targeted this game as the must-win (they can now afford to lose to Ireland in all likelihood).

      We need to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off and go again. The World Cup isn’t over for us yet.

  8. When I saw the headline I thought he was talking about our performances. He’s right though, there’s a good chance that the world cup could be decided by some inconsistent interpretations of the rules.

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