Select Edition


Nigel Owens weighs in on match-defining moment as South Africa beat England

By Josh Raisey
South Africa's openside flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit (R) celebrates as New Zealand referee Ben O'Keeffe (L) blows the final whistle as South Africa wins the France 2023 Rugby World Cup semi-final match between England and South Africa at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of Paris, on October 21, 2023. (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP) (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images)

Former referee Nigel Owens has labelled the decision to penalise England at the scrum in the final minutes of their World Cup semi-final against South Africa as "very, very, debatable," saying it goes down to the referee's interpretation on the day.

Referee Ben O'Keeffe penalised replacement loosehead Ellis Genge for driving across against South Africa late in the semi-final, whereby Handre Pollard stepped up and converted the resulting penalty kick to give the world champions a 16-15 victory.

On Whistle Watch this week, the Welshman discussed that decision and explained why O'Keeffe came to it, all while highlighting the infringement Genge's opposite man Vincent Koch was perceived to have committed.

"Now, big talking point in that wonderful, exciting and intense game was the last penalty in the scrum," Owens said.

"There are a lot of things to look at here. So do we have Ellis Genge going to his knee? Yes, we do. Now what tends to happen, if a player goes to his knee, the referee will deal with that there and then. The referee here decides that Ellis Genge gets back up on his feet, so he continues the scrum. What happens next is we have Ellis Genge going across, but also some of you have quite rightly highlighted that you have the tighthead of South Africa [Vincent Koch] also going across.

"So what the referee has to deal with here, he has to deal with what he believes is the first offence. So for him, the first offence is the knee on the ground. The South Africa tighthead going across then, for him, is the second offence. So it's one of those very, very debatable ones. The only thing I would say, if you are going to penalise a knee on the ground, then you need to penalise it when it happens. Not afterwards when something else has happened. It's a little bit like the contact area. There's no point you coming in and penalising the second or the third offence, and not penalising the first one. It will then be too late to go back to it.

"So, in this instance here, the referee penalised Ellis Genge for going across, because he feels the action on the knee has contributed to that. It's a very, very tough call and to be honest it's one that comes down to your interpretation as a referee on the day."

The scrum came off the back of 20 minutes of dominance at the set piece from South Africa, as their vaunted 'Bomb Squad' helped book their place in the World Cup final against the All Blacks on Saturday.