'Jack is not happy': Scotland left frustrated by TMO incidents in Rugby World Cup opener as Finn Russell condition addressed after rib blow

Gregor Townsend expressed frustration at refereeing inconsistency at the Rugby World Cup after Scotland lost 18-3 to South Africa in their opening game in Marseille.

A couple of big decisions went against the Scots, one as early as the first minute when the Springboks centre Jesse Kriel made direct contact with Jack Dempsey’s head in a tackle. Referee Angus Gardner took no action, nor was the incident looked at by the television match official, Wales’ Ben Whitehouse. It came a day after England’s Tom Curry was shown the red card for a similar collision against Argentina, a match 14-man England went on to win at the same stadium.

Townsend said he was surprised the tackle on Dempsey wasn’t scrutinised further. “I saw it from two screens away and it did look like it was a head-on-head collision and I was expecting the TMO to come in to make the referee aware of that,” said the Scotland coach. “Who knows if it had been a red card? We had a red card on Saturday and it didn't help or change the game in terms of Argentina's favour so who knows?”

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Jamie Bhatti, the Scotland prop, felt the tackle should have at least been looked at by the TMO. “I saw it and in my opinion it should have been reviewed,” said Bhatti. “Look at the red card that happened here on Saturday night. I know it didn’t change the game as it turned out, but you need to be consistent with calls like that. That’s the main thing. You can’t red card someone for the same thing on Saturday night then this one doesn’t even get looked at.

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend.Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend.
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend.

“In my opinion, you have to be consistent. Jack is not happy. You can imagine what he’s like in the changing room. That could have changed the game. It didn’t change the England game on Saturday night, but you never know what could have happened. You would have that one-man advantage and it could change the game completely.”

Townsend was further vexed by the TMO’s decision to intervene in an incident later in the first half when Finn Russell was penalised for a no-hands tackle when the Scotland stand-off felt he had been the victim of a blow to the ribs from Boks winger Kurt-Lee Arendse.

“We had a promising attacking position outside the 22 and then the TMO came in for a body check. Finn tried to get the ball and it wasn't a traditional tackle and I didn’t really know how that ended up being a penalty so, yes, there are still inconsistencies in seeing these things. I am frustrated but I am more frustrated by our own performance.”

Russell required treatment after the tackle and looked as if he might be replaced by Ollie Smith but the stand-off was able to continue and ended up playing the full match.

“It did look like he was coming off initially as he had a rib injury which seemed like it was going to stop him from continuing but he dug deep and he fought really hard,” added Townsend. “I thought some of his defensive work in the second half was outstanding and it just shows how much he cares about his team-mates and playing for Scotland.”

The Scots went in at the break 6-3 down but finished the first half strongly. However, they were undone by two South Africa tries in three minutes early in the second half, from Pieter-Steph du Toit and Arendse. Townsend’s side now have a two-week break before their next match in Pool B. The squad will be given a few days off to spend with visiting family members before preparations begin for the game against Tonga in Nice on September 24. They will then play Romania in Lille on September 30 and Ireland in Paris on October 7. The reality is that Scotland will need to win all three to finish in the top two and qualify for the quarter-finals.