GREGOR TOWNSEND was generally happy with the way his team had bounced back from their World Cup opening weekend disappointment against South Africa when picking up the bonus point by half-time and ultimately securing a comfortable seven tries to two victory over Tonga, which keeps their dream of qualifying for the quarter-finals of this tournament alive for at least one more week.
But he also expressed his anger and exasperation at the inconsistencies of the match officiating at this World Cup after Tongan winger Afusipa Taumpepeau escaped with a yellow and not a red card following his shoulder-on-head tackle which left Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie that could rule him out of the team’s final pool match against Ireland in two weekends.
The flanker now faces a 12-day return to play process, which could be longer if he fails any of the daily tests which track his recovery, and with there being only a 13 day gap between Scotland’s Tonga and Ireland matches, an anxious wait lies ahead. Ritchie will definitely miss next Saturday’s game against Romania in Lille although he was likely to be rested for that one anyway.
“It’s very disappointing that our captain, one of our key players, was hit in the head and had to be removed from the game,” said Townsend. “It’s twice now that’s happened because against South Africa, our No 8, Jack Dempsey, was hit in the head. Nothing happened that day, and today it was only a yellow card.
“I heard the referee saying there was mitigation in terms of height for why it stayed as a yellow. I just don’t understand what the TMO, ‘Bunker’ [foul play review officer] and the three [on-field] officials are looking at.
“We’re trying to look at ways to not give red cards rather than referee what isn’t a legal tackle and should be a red card, in my opinion.”
The ‘Bunker’ system was introduced before this World Cup to allow a foul play to be reviewed from multiple video angles by a separate match official while the game carries on. The objective is to reduce the number of dangerous challenges in the game but the tournament has been littered with missed incidents, confusing verdicts and a general sense of bewilderment at the apparent lack of consistency and clarity.
“The ‘bunker’ is not being delivered the way I thought it would be, which is only if the referee is not sure at the time whether it’s a yellow card or a red card,” Townsend added. “I don’t believe there’s been a red card issued by a referee yet – they’ve all gone to the ‘bunker’.
“It’s to help referees when they are not sure whether it’s yellow or red card, but it’s taking the game away from the referees to make those decisions.
“If there is mitigation there for a player who runs into contact and gets hit in the head, I don’t see it,” he continued, turning his attention back to the Taumpepeau-Richie incident. “It’s supposed to be a late or sudden change in movement, but Jamie didn’t even carry the ball that low and got hit in the head.
“This tournament is our showcase, our opportunity to show what is legal and what is illegal, what we want out of the game. That’s two tackles now, both upright, both hit the head of our players, one had no sanction, not even a penalty, and the second one just had a yellow card. I don’t think that’s good enough.”
“I felt the players showed huge physicality today. The contact work, the ball carrying and in terms of defence,” he continued. “We do defend in a different way, a lot of it is about riding the tackle and making sure that ball is slowed down. I thought we did that very well. It was an excellent physical contest, but I can only talk about the tackle that led to our captain being removed from the field and not being able to return.”
Townsend also promised Ireland – who are riding high after their epic victory over South Africa on Saturday night – that their progress to the knock-out stages of this World Cup is not a foregone conclusion, despite their commanding position in Pool B with three wins from three matches, and their excellent recent record against Scotland of eight wins from the last eight meeting (by an average of 14 points per match).
“Reading a few comments after the game, it looked like Ireland were already in the quarter-finals,” he said. “Even chatting to a few people today, they were saying it will be Ireland against New Zealand. Maybe that’s already been decided.
“We know we have to win our next two games, and it’s likely now we’ll have to win with either a bonus point or deny Ireland a bonus point. But we’ve got a game next week to focus on and we’ve got to get maximum points from that one first.”