Referee Glen Jackson came in for some criticism after Scotland's 26-23 defeat to Wales. We analyse six pivotal decisions from the New Zealander

Passions run high during the Six Nations. Tribalism and tradition dictate as much, which is a big part of the tournament’s intoxicating appeal. Consequently though, opinions run fast – and often loose.

The fall-out from referee Glen Jackson’s performance at Murrayfield was fairly disheartening. Following a 26-23 defeat for Scotland against Wales, a few social media protestations landed in irrational and attention-seeking territory.

One journalist suggested the tie would be the New Zealander’s first and last Six Nations assignment. Frankly, that is garbage. Having retired in 2010, the former Saracens fly-half (who had been a charge of Vern Cotter at Bay of Plenty) possesses innately intuitive empathy with the modern game and will keep progressing on the international stage.

There is no need to compromise honesty to preserve rugby’s oft-regurgitated values of respecting officials – Jackson was hampered by indecision in a dramatic finale – but hyperbolic criticism helps nobody. Like any relatively inexperienced player, he will review his performance, learn lessons and move on.

Let’s take a closer look at the pivotal calls that shaped Sunday’s encounter.

Scotland 10-6 Wales, 30 minutes: Finn Russell yellow card


Decision: Penalty to Wales following big screen referral, yellow card to Finn Russell.

Verdict: This moment was easily the most contentious in the match, and controversy was compounded on Wednesday with news World Rugby elected to ban Russell for two weeks – thus implying that Jackson’s ruling was wrong. Scotland have subsequently appealed the sanction. So you have a fair idea of how violently debate has been raging.

The infringement comes down to the fact that Russell pulls out of the aerial challenge and turns his back, therefore impeding and unbalancing Dan Biggar:


While it could have been worse, Biggar’s hugely awkward landing demonstrates how dangerous the situation is:


As the World Rugby statement outlined, these actions were “reckless rather than deliberate”. Though not contravening law 10.4 (i) – tackling the jumper in the air – on purpose, referees are accountable for player welfare regardless of intent.

What clouds the issue further are the directives passed down by World Rugby in the aftermath of Jared Payne‘s sending off for Ulster against Saracens after up-ending Alex Goode inadvertently but spectacularly. That incident, almost a year ago, put the responsibility on chasers to ensure catchers land safely.

Clearly, this is different because Biggar is coming forward and Russell is stationary. The Scotland man keeps his eye on the ball until relatively late, leaving no time to avoid his opposite man:


In short, Jackson has an extremely complex call to make. In the end, a sin-binning upholds the commitment to keep catcher Biggar safe, punishing the perpetrator sufficiently. Red cards should be absolute no-brainers. Whatever the citing and appeal results, Jackson went with sound, and fair instincts. Good decision.

Scotland 10-16 Wales, 35 minutes: Jonathan Davies yellow card


Decision: Penalty to Scotland and, following big screen referral, a yellow card to Jonathan Davies.

Verdict: Five minutes later, another difficult scenario to deal with. Of course, the roles are reversed here, catcher Johnny Beattie is floored by chaser Davies as the centres hares in pursuit of Rhys Webb‘s box-kick.

The Welshman’s eyes do not leave the ball at all until contact is made with his rival:


Isolating the point of contact though, we can see that Beattie is up first:


Therefore, as previously outlined, the onus on safety falls on Davies. Beattie lands on the small of his back and, while undoubtedly on the softer side of Russell’s, a yellow card is hard to argue with. Good decision.

Scotland 16-19 Wales, 59 minutes: Liam Williams ‘try’


Decision: Try given initially, television match official (TMO) assistance asked for following conversation with touch judge George Clancy. Try then disallowed for obstruction, penalty Scotland.

Verdict: Despite initial confusion, perhaps due to being unsighted, Jackson used the resources available to him. Before Webb moves the ball away, the maul is clearly in two pods, Jake Ball and Alun-Wyn Jones broken off at the front and blocking defender Rob Harley:


Given Webb attacks the space previously occupied by Harley, you can take your pick between a couple of laws:

Obstruction_lawAs such, things turn out straightforwardly. Good decision.

Scotland 16-26 Wales, 66-69 minutes: Consecutive offences

Here, we are examining two separate penalties, the first coming on the 12th phase of a Scotland attack:


And the next after the hosts have taken a quick tap, in the shadow of the Welsh posts:


Decision: Two penalties, both to Scotland.

Verdict: Jackson deals with most of this period well. He picks up that Jamie Roberts (green boots) and Justin Tipruic are not supporting their bodyweight while competing for the ball at the top ruck:


In the next sequence, he warns the Wales backline to stay onside and gestures towards them…


…before pinging Biggar (albeit on a very tight call) for failing to remain behind the back foot:


What is ignored is the cumulative effect of this infringements, not to mention the fact that replacement Wales hooker Scott Baldwin hacks the ball away after Tipuric’s pilfer. On reflection, Jackson might have exercised 10.3 (b) and flourished another yellow:


Scotland 16-26 Wales, 73 minutes: High tackle on Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Mark Bennett ‘try’


Decision: No try, penalty Scotland.

Verdict: Jackson is on the spot to deliberate that Sam Hidalgo-Clyne‘s spill has gone forward, and no television angles offer a clear alternative. Therefore, we can rule out Bennett’s score.

Where the trouble comes is Rhys Webb’s challenge, both in terms of where it is on the pitch…High_tackle

…and on the body of Scotland’s replacement scrum-half:


There is an extremely strong argument for either a penalty try or a yellow card – perhaps both.

Scotland 23-26 Wales, 80 minutes: Game over

When Jon Welsh barged over, Scotland should have had plenty of time – 45 seconds, in fact – to take the conversion and launch one more attack:


As it was, Jim Hamilton instigated a scuffle, dived in and ate up some valuable moments. As Russell’s kick sailed home for two more points though, just four more seconds remained:


Here is the crux – Jackson was under no obligation to stop the clock after the successful kick. Law 5.7 (e) below underlines how Scotland needed to give themselves longer:


Time expired before Jackson awarded the restart. It was not an option. The end may have been slightly farcical, but it was fair.

Jackson will already have reviewed this weekend by now. All in all, he can reflect on a testing afternoon, but one in which he dealt with a lot of things well despite a few lapses.

Certainly, vilifying a promising young referee in a sport with law interpretations perennially shrouded in ambiguity – and becoming more labyrinthine with ever-evolving directives – will not solve anything.


  • SteveMcG

    Overall a reasonable assessment of the game. Agree that there is nothing to be achieved by pillorying an official who is learning his craft. However this fixture has a litany of controversial and questionable calls and as such should probably have had a more experienced official.

    As for the game itself Scotland arguably could have won the game but for poor decisions both on the part of the Scotland team and the officials.

    One thing is clear is that World Rugby needs to get a grip of the laws around kicking and receiving the ball. The ban on Finn Russell is a joke. Had he not taken evasive action he could have been seriously injured along with Dan Biggar. Dan Biggar’s leap into standing receiving players was both reckless in the extreme and illegal, see law 10.1(a) charging a player above. As the law stands it encourages players to leap into the air irrespective of whether they can catch the ball as they know that they can draw a penalty and have an opposing player yellow carded, guilty of nothing other than standing their ground.

  • Alastair Taylor

    Granted, Jim would start a fight in an empty room, but there is a hint of Jon Welsh’s broken hand being down to a stamp when scoring the last minute try.

  • Alastair Taylor

    Decent analysis, but the time issue is clear in law. The ball was dead when
    the conversion was taken. Under 5.7(e) the restart should have been taken.

    Without the benefit of commentators, and in the white hot atmosphere of the
    crowd last Sunday, our takeaways were:

    Why not refer the Bennet try to the TMO? Why not refer the SHD tackle to the
    TMO for foul play? At a crucial point in the game, referrals would have killed
    the debate dead.

    Why so many red zone penalties against Wales, yet no yellow card?

    I agree the referee should not be vilified, but it was a performance far below
    the standards required for the 6ns. It has to be addressed.

    Post match: why is Finn Russell cited – and banned – despite making no tackle as defined in law, yet the Welshman is not, while making a tackle?

  • KingRog

    Hamilton’s involvement is open to interpretation. He was attempting to retrieve the ball in order that a quick conversion could be taken. Needles to say, Wales weren’t too keen on giving him the ball.

  • Phil Rodda

    Agree with Alastair regarding the ‘blocking run try’. Jon Davies was not running a supporting line but a blocking line – that was plain for anyone to see. I’ve seen GJ referee on a number of occasions and this is the first time I though he was below par

  • A couple of things come to mind:

    1. The fact that he didn’t even use the TMO for the Mark Bennet try. The article says there was no clear TV angle, but he didn’t even ask the TMO to take a look.

    2. The article completely fails to mention the ‘Blocking Run Try’ before half time.

    Taken together, even if you ignore everything else, that’s a 14 point swing because of poor refereeing decisions, which is not acceptable at that sort of level.

  • Jem McDowall

    The article did NOT make clear the fact that it was the time-keeper, not GJ, who made the decision that time was up. At the end of the match Jackson was clearly heading back for the ko and was told by the timekeeper/TMO that time was up. The ref does NOT keep time in an international match, he only gives the signal of time on or time off. The timekeeper does the rest.

  • Langj

    This doesn’t really clear anything up for me I am afraid. Both high tackles were deserved yellow cards but Russell getting banned for two weeks is almost laughable. Also you say that he made a good decision on Bennett’s disallowed Try, which I find staggering.
    No knock on, a high tackle by the defender and no Try given, all you can bring
    yourself to say is that there was an argument for yellow card? It was a clear
    high tackle which prevented a Try scoring opportunity so not sure what the
    doubt is? Also after that you fail to point out that the ref could clearly
    be heard telling the Welsh defenders that their repeat offending on their own
    Try line would lead to further punishment. This never came despite some
    pretty cynical offences in the red zone. Should have been yellow card and
    penalty Try. Also I am sorry but he DID end the game early. I don’t think the
    guy was biased or anything, and I think ultimate blame for not winning game
    still lies with Scotland for not taking the chances to beat a Welsh team that
    deserved to get beat. I just think that he choked under the pressure.
    Understandable given his lack of experience perhaps, but if a player performed
    as badly as this he would be criticised so isn’t any different for refs. They
    have such a huge impact on the outcomes of games and perhaps a wider point is
    on trying to get some more consistency in to the game. Because we will know
    that a different ref would have seen a different result on Sunday and that
    shouldn’t be the case.

  • Matt Pritchard

    Solid summary of the main points which needed discussion around the Jackson performance. Couple of questions, why not continue the Good Decision/Bad Decision across the whole article? Also, why not comment on the fact that Jon Davies was nudged by Lamont as he was jumping to challenge for the ball?

    From a Welshman, Russell was a yellow, nothing more, ban for 2 weeks is a joke. Didn’t think Jon Davies deserved a yellow but was a tough call. Wales should have had 2 yellows in the dying minutes, 1 for Webb and 1 for any one of the players giving away penalties in the red zone.

    Nice to see someone pointing out that Jim Hamilton did his best to lose his team the chance of time to put together a final attack.