Neil Francis: Jonathan Davies' kick was one of the worst I have ever seen and it let England get out of jail
Wales let England out of jail and in the process showed where Six Nations title will be lost
Published 16/02/2017 | 02:30
We are not even midway in the Championship and already the table lies to us. At first glance it looks tight but England have two home games against the two weakest sides in the competition and, grumble as we did about our Celtic neighbours unseating us in such unchivalrous fashion, we depend on them to ensure that they don't give up four tries to the Chariot.
The Scots have their own aspirations and if they beat Wales in Murrayfield - who is to say that they won't win the Championship? They won't but they will be a factor in determining the destiny of the silverware.
If England arrive here with 18 points they will win the Championship, but 17 points and it's game on . . . if we have managed to beat France and Wales.
If you are an optimist you could point to the fact that Ireland put 40 points on New Zealand away from home. Ireland could easily get bonus-point wins against France or Wales, just as easily as they could lose to both. The Championship is refreshingly loose.
Last weekend we had two real contests and a turkey shoot. It was a professional dispatch by Ireland and there is little merit in dissecting it for analysis. The two other games, which featured Ireland's future opponents, were absorbing encounters and left much to ruminate on. Two factors which are important elements in the international equation - the referee and the inability to close out a winning lead.
I think we can all pretty much agree that I am on record in regarding Jaco Peyper as a weak referee. Maybe it was decreed by the gods that we would never beat New Zealand in Dublin but if we had a referee who would deal with their cynicism adroitly and according to the rules, we would have had a pretty good chance of making 2-0 in the series. Peyper didn't front up to his responsibilities and the All Blacks got away with murder - or at least attempted murder.
In Paris last Sunday, Peyper had another one of those easy breezy displays where he let Scotland away with grand theft auto and larcenous engagement, particularly at the breakdown. At the very least, players and even spectators are entitled to consistency. Peyper penalised Scotland once, maybe twice, for hands in the ruck. Every time the French got go-forward ball, Scotland would slow it or kill it illegally!
Consistency all across the park is required. In the 36th minute, Finn Russell put up a bomb to Noa Nakaitaci. At no stage did Russell have a genuine chance of catching the ball, yet he continued his chase and clattered the Fijian - sorry the Frenchman - in the air. He never pulled out, followed through and took the player out in the air.
Elliot Daly was sent off by Pascal Gauzere for a dangerous challenge on Leonardo Senatore in the air in the England versus Argentina game at Twickenham last November. Gauzere's exact words were: "I have no option".
Two months later, the rules have changed, apparently, and Russell doesn't even get a yellow. Three minutes later he slots a penalty to make it 13-11 when he shouldn't even be on the pitch. Consistency . . .
One minute into the second half John Hardie does a Sam Cane on Loann Goujon. The replacement flanker leads with his right shoulder into Goujon's face. The tackle moves up a few inches on impact and the two players' heads also collide.
Peyper only a few metres away is completely oblivious to what happened. He was only metres away when Cane nailed Robbie Henshaw but that directive on head-high tackles - Jaco must not have been in school that day - has changed.
Seconds later, Peyper blows the match dead and signals for medical staff to hurry onto the pitch. Hardie, the perpetrator, comes off worse in the tackle and is out cold before he hits the ground and is lying there motionless.
He is eventually carried off for a HIA. The only two people who were wondering how Hardie ended up motionless on the ground were Peyper and Hardie. Goujon has a broken sinus and is out of the Championship - the press release says it was due to an accidental clash of heads . . .
Minutes later, Scotland attack down the blindside and when the ball comes to Tommy Seymour on the right wing he chips a beautifully weighted dink over the cover. Scott Spedding has to wait for the ball to come down after a wicked bounce. As he waits Seymour comes forward and puts his two hands on Spedding's back and pushes him out of the way. The South African fails to gather the ball that he was waiting for and Seymour regathers and connects with Tim Swinson who sails in under the sticks.
Claudio Ranieri rings up the Scottish management to see if he could get Finn Russell to replace Jamie Vardy for Leicester as the Scottish out-half scores a great goal against the French.
The reason Russell failed to kick the ball over the bar was simple - Spedding was still complaining to the referee about the push in the back. If there is any foul play prior to a try - that try must be disallowed. Quite why Peyper refused to refer it to the TMO is not beyond me anymore - it is because he is a poor referee.
Russell missed the conversion because once the kick is taken there can be no referral to the TMO. Russell could see what was going on and tried to get the kick out of the way quickly before they changed their minds.
France should have and could have won by 25 points. The game was close until the very end because once again one team was clever enough to play a weak referee and that referee let Scotland away with murder. What does his assessor say at the debrief this time?
The Welsh must still be wondering how they lost on Saturday. England's back row of Maro Itoje, Jack Clifford and Nathan Hughes are a long way off the required standard and Wales beat them in the tackle and the breakdown and did enough to be able to close it out with five minutes left and the score at 16-14.
As England pressed in the right-hand corner five yards out, Kyle Sinckler was met by a four-man delegation and had the ball knocked from his grasp and Joe Launchbury had to go to ground to retrieve the pill.
Liam Williams, leading the chase, flopped on the English second-row in the tackle, or was it a tackle? He gets away with thieving the ball while off his feet. Wales organised their exit strategy - instead of Dan Biggar relieving with a right-footed clearance, they chose to go with Jonathan Davies to clear with his left.
There were, I am certain, quite a few grandmothers in their 80s who trudged away from the Principality Stadium thinking, 'I could have kicked it better than that'. Davies' kick was one of the worst I have ever seen at this level.
England could have done a number of things but because the Welsh were still pinching themselves to see if the kick was as bad as it looked they forgot to chase the ball. The ball ended up in George Ford's hands and he knew where the space was and headed infield.
The reason England scored was because of the quality of the passes from Ford to Owen Farrell and Farrell to Daly. Farrell's pass in particular was sublime. At full pace a 15-metre pass right into the bread basket. Daly didn't have to check or reach - the pass met him on the full in his run and that is why he beat Alex Cuthbert's truly awful attempt of a tackle. We will probably see Davies in a Welsh shirt again but not Cuthbert.
England got out of jail - but they had the skill-set and determination to take possibly the only chance that would come their way.
The Championship will come down to one side's ability to close out a game. Ireland have messed up once - there won't be any latitude for failure to close out in the run-in.