Former England captain Dylan Hartley insists Alex Dombrandt’s decisive try in the victory over Wales last weekend would not have happened if Alun Wyn Jones had been on the field.
The try, which was the difference in the end as England held on to win 23-19 at Twickenham, has been the source of controversy in the aftermath.
Wales’ lineout deep in their own 22 went horribly wrong and the ball ended up in the hands of the England No.8, who finished well.
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But Wales hooker Ryan Elias and lock Adam Beard were immediately furious and closer inspection showed that Beard, the target for the throw, was impeded by Maro Itoje as he went to jump for the ball.
It meant the Welsh lock never got off the ground and Dombrandt gleefully welcomed the ball into his open arms.
Despite the protestations of Wales’ players, referee Mike Adamson did not check for the infringement, instead focusing on the grounding of the ball before awarding the try.
After the match, Wales boss Wayne Pivac was adamant that Beard was pushed.
“Big, big talking point obviously because we can see Wayne Pivac is not very happy about that,” Hartley said on the BBC.
“But you’ve got to remember that teams are looking for an advantage in every facet of the game and [throughout] that whole game, England were trying to steal or encroach on Wales’ lineout.
“It’s one of those things, a game within the game. It happens all the time, it happens at scrum time, it happens at lineout time.
“England got an advantage at the lineout and they weren’t refereed there. So what are you going to do? You’re going to take the space.”
Hartley showed an example of England doing this inside the first 10 minutes of the match, when Wales lost another lineout, this time on England’s five meter line.
He highlights Kyle Sinckler stepping across into the middle of the lineout and, on this occasion, blames Wales for calling the lineout poorly.
“I don’t understand why they’ve made this call, with Kyle Sinckler there with his hand in the air,” he said. They’ve thrown the ball to him, so it’s a poor call.”
The main thrust of Hartley’s point, though, is that he believes Alun Wyn Jones, Wales’ injured skipper, would have put a stop to these sort of lineout shenanigans immediately by raising them with referee Adamson.
He also believes Elias should have refused to throw the ball into the disastrous lineout. An aerial shot of the incident shows that England have stepped across to the point where Elias is actually standing on their side of the lineout when he throws the ball in.
That reduces Wales’ chances of winning the lineout significantly, even if there was no infringement.
“There’s loads going on here,” he explains.
“Yes, Maro has taken some space. I don’t think Maro has nudged him or pushed him, he is just there, he is in his space.
“Ryan Elias is actually lined up on the England [side of the] line out.
“If that’s me throwing that ball, I’m not throwing it in. I’m saying to the touch judge: ‘No thank you!’
“I looked at this Welsh team and thought Alun Wyn Jones says: ‘No way’.
“That first lineout that Kyle Sinckler has blocked, you then go to the ref and say: ‘They’re encroaching on our space, this is happening all game, there’s a theme here’.
“The referee then starts looking out for it. You’ve got to remember, Wales are five meters from their own line. There is no time pressure to hurry that up.
“Get it right and get out of your help.”
He added: “For me, Elias and Beard will be better players for that. They’ll review it and it will never happen to them again.
“If you look at the referee, he’s smack bang in line with that lineout and if he wants to referee it, he can.
“But he’s not aware of it and that’s what Alun Wyn Jones would be doing, he would have made the referee very aware.”
Former Wales fly-helped Jonathan ‘Jiffy’ Davies was joining Hartley on the BBC’s Six Nations Special and was less convinced about Itoje’s actions.
He, like Wales boss Pivac, believes Beard was impeded but feels Wales had to manage Adamson better.
“I think he’s nudged him. He’s done it all game, got away with it and it’s a big opportunity for England, why not?” said Davies.
“It’s not a risk for him. If they get penalized five meters from the Welsh line, they take a kick and start again.
“You’ve got to manage every part of the game and that includes the referee.
“If you’re not happy, you’ve got to say: ‘This is happening, we’re not taking the lineout’, slow the game down completely, get Dan Biggar in and make a point that he has to referee it.
“It didn’t happen and it ends up in a crucial try.”
After the match, WalesOnline asked Pivac whether he felt Beard was pushed and he responded: “Yes. Hey what. He was chased out of the lineout and bumped, which you can’t do. Unfortunately, that wasn’t picked up and the try stands.
“It’s not very often you throw over the top close to your line. It’s unfortunate that no one picked it up. From the replay we’ve seen, there was certainly an offense.”
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