Jacob Whitehead gives his verdict on the 14 penalties Eddie Jones’s side conceded against Wales
England’s Ill-Discipline Analysed
England gave away a mammoth 14 penalties in their 40-24 loss to Wales in the third round of the Six Nations.
Eddie Jones’s side are averaging 13.7 infringements per game in 2021. Stats from Opta show this is the most of any year under the Australian coach and nearly double the 7.1 conceded in 2019 when they went all the way to the World Cup final.
Another factor to keep an eye on is how Maro Itoje’s propensity for conceding penalties may affect his chances of receiving the Lions captaincy from Warren Gatland.
The second-row was responsible for five in the match and while his work-rate will lead to infringements, the sheer magnitude of indiscretions could mean another candidate gets the nod.
Itoje wasn’t alone on Saturday, with eight other men pinged by referee Pascal Gaüzère. But what were these penalties for? Were they needless, or are England playing on the edge, possibly going unpenalised on another day? Here’s England’s ill-discipline analysed.
England’s Ill-Discipline Analysed – Penalty By Penalty
1 – Jonny May, 2nd minute, extra roll
Possibly a little harsh. After making ground out wide, May is penalised for an extra roll and not releasing the ball immediately.
Some referees might have let the England winger get away with it, while there is a case to be made that tackler George North doesn’t release.
2 – Maro Itoje, 3rd minute, deliberate knock-on
Straight from Wales’ subsequent kick to touch comes Itoje’s first penalty. You aren’t allowed to slap the ball out of the scrum-half’s hands, and the Saracen is never realistically making an attempt to do anything but.
3 – Maro Itoje, 5th minute, side entry
Perhaps keen to atone, Itoje gets his timing wrong here, at a maul ten metres out from the England line. Guilty of over-exuberance for the second time in a row, as England give away three penalties in as many completed phases.
4 – Maro Itoje, 13th minute, playing the ball on the floor
Hat-trick! Initially looked legal, but a good spot from Gaüzère. An excellent lineout harry from Itoje, but the referee notices his knees have touched the ground fractionally before he nabs the ball from Kieran Hardy.
May well have got away with it if not for his previous indiscretions.
5 – Owen Farrell, 16th minute, not rolling away
The penalty before the controversy. Accused of preventing quick ball, Farrell moves his legs clear before Hardy arrives at the breakdown, while his top half is held down by Josh Adams.
In Gaüzère’s defence, he is consistent on this, penalising both Adam Beard and Hardy for the same offence in the next five minutes.
6 – Mako Vunipola, 21st minute, playing the ball on the floor
There could have been penalties either way here. Vunipola flops on the loose ball moments before Alun Wyn Jones, but the weight of the Welsh captain pins Vunipola away from his team. The prop turns to present the ball, but the delay leads to the whistle.
An argument could be made that Jones should have been penalised for not rolling away.
7 – Maro Itoje, 28th minute, offside
Gets his timing spot-on for a chargedown, moving only after Hardy has picked up the ball, but both England’s guards, Itoje and Jamie George, set their defensive line in front of the back foot.
A fair call, although England may argue the ball was already out.
8 – Mako Vunipola, 46th minute, offside
Elliot Daly knocks on an up-and-under and Vunipola plays the ball from in front of him. A straightforward and avoidable call.
England had gone nearly a quarter of the game without being penalised before this.
9 – Jonny Hill, 48th minute, side entry
One error leads straight to another. Hill cannot resist trying to slow the ball down by attacking the sole figure of Ken Owens as he bridges over the ball.
Doesn’t get his feet square and his arm lazily knocks the ball away, highlighting the indiscretion. Hardy takes a quick tap to put Wales 24-14 up.
10 – Tom Curry, 60th minute, side entry
They show this as the archetypal example on refereeing courses.
Henry Slade gets isolated and Curry, rushing to beat the jackal of Alun Wyn Jones, is more lateral than a spirit level. Ruins a promising attack.
11 – Maro Itoje, 65th minute, jumping across the line
Doesn’t’ interfere with the maul but is guilty of jumping into Welsh territory.
It’s easy to say in hindsight, but maybe in this last passage England could have trusted their defence, rather than go for the miracle play. Callum Sheedy kicks a good penalty.
12 – Ellis Genge, 69th minute, sealing off
Had only been on the pitch a matter of moments, so what appeared to be an exhuasted flop on top of Billy Vunipola, sealing off the ball, is less forgivable. Another easy three for Sheedy.
13 – Charlie Ewels, 72nd minute, jumping across the line
A carbon-copy of Itoje’s offence but interferes even more with the clearing Welsh maul.
Very frustrating, both for giving Wales an escape from a dangerous position and for showing an inability to learn. This felt like England’s chances slipping away.
14 – Dan Robson, 73rd minute, obstruction
It’s difficult to say that this one was needless, with every team engaging in the hi-jinks of subtly blocking opposition chasers. The issue here was a complete lack of subtlety.
Sheedy added a third penalty and England were over a score behind, a lead Cory Hill would stretch in the final minute.
England’s Ill-Discipline Analysed – The Overall Verdict
England’s discipline wasn’t completely brainless. They could justifiably contest three or four decisions, particularly those in the flurry early on, which would have left their penalty count closer Wales’ nine.
Also, they were far more disciplined in the middle 40 of the game, a period in which they outscored Wales by 18-7.
However, what will concern England is the needlessness of their infringements. Wales didn’t win a single penalty for holding on, remarkable for a team containing some excellent jacklers – Justin Tipuric, Josh Navidi and Wyn Jones. Instead, England brought the referee’s ire on themselves.
Having got the score back to 24-24, it wasn’t Gaüzère’s contentious decisions that lost the game for England, but their misdemeanours in the final quarter. Penalties 11, 12, and 14 were all sloppy and unforced, a gift for a Welsh side who only had to ensure they played in the right areas.
Scrums are usually the most penalised set-piece, but one trend which emerged was England’s propensity to transgress at the opposition lineout. They committed four separate offences – two for jumping across the line, one for entering the maul from the side and one for a deliberate knock-on.
These were directly responsible for six Welsh points at a crucial stage of the game. This must be something to fix before France.
Finally, it is interesting that the last three penalties were all given away by Eddie Jones’s ‘finishers’, just as his side were looking to, well, finish strongly.
Perhaps his replacements were guilty of trying to solve England’s problems individually, overstepping the mark in a desperate attempt to see their side home. It may not be surprising if the bench changes in their next match.
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