France saved by controversial officiating decisions for two matches in a row

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France saved by controversial officiating decisions for two matches in a row
France very nearly lost to both Scotland and Italy
France very nearly lost to both Scotland and Italy
Reuters
For the second consecutive game, France were rescued from Six Nations defeat at the weekend by a late controversial officiating decision, leaving Italy heartbroken as they were denied a famous win, just like Scotland before them.

The Scots were left fuming in round two when a late try which would have won them the game at Murrayfield was ruled out after the Television Match Official (TMO) went with the referee's on-field decision.

In the final seconds referee Nic Berry ruled Scotland's attempt had been held up and TMO Brian MacNeice, after initially saying he could see the ball on the ground, changed his mind to say there was no conclusive evidence to overturn the decision.

Replays, however, appeared to show the ball grounded onto a French boot before it slipped onto the turf and France held on to win 20-16. On Sunday they salvaged a draw when Italy missed a stoppage-time penalty with the score tied at 13-13.

Italy can feel aggrieved not because of the ball bizarrely slipping from the tee which cost Paolo Garbisi valuable seconds, but because referee Christophe Ridley, officiating his first Six Nations game, failed to apply the laws of the game.

A French player initially moved forward to charge down the kick, then stopped when it toppled off the tee. After Garbisi hurriedly replaced it there was another brief charge before the player was held back by a team-mate.

Charging is allowed with conversions but for a penalty, the opposing team must stand still with their hands by their sides from the time the kicker starts to approach until the ball is kicked.

The referee ordered the player to retreat but could have taken more decisive action as the law states that if the opposing team infringes while the kick is being taken and the kick is unsuccessful a penalty is awarded 10 metres in front of the original mark.

After the game, Garbisi took full responsibility and apologised for the miss, without pointing the finger or making excuses.

"Was I bothered by the French players who moved? No, it didn't bother me," Garbisi said.

"My only thought was to get the ball back on the tee as quickly as possible, I didn't even see that the French players were up."

Italy head coach Gonzalo Quesada was already on his way down from the stands when the kick was taken but was informed by his colleagues what had happened.

"My staff were complaining that (France) were charging, it was a penalty and they cannot charge," Quesada said.

"I have no complaints, but it's a bit frustrating to know... we couldn't take advantage in normal conditions, respecting the rule about (staying away) 10 metres."

Italy were keen to focus on their own performance after the game but when they look back now perhaps they will feel, just as Scotland did, that it could have been all so different if the French-born English referee had used the letter of the law.

They may take comfort from the fact the draw moves them into the top 10 of the world rankings for the first time since 2013, the year in which they last beat the French.

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