England first-five Owen Farrell's contentious tackle was a penalty: Ex-top ref

Owen Farrell's tackle on Andre Esterhuizen has divided the rugby world.
AP
Owen Farrell's tackle on Andre Esterhuizen has divided the rugby world.

Owen Farrell's contentious tackle still has tongues wagging in the rugby world and one former top referee believes South Africa should have been awarded a potentially match-winning penalty in the Twickenham test on Saturday (Sunday NZ time).

England co-captain Farrell was not cited or punished on the field by Australian referee Angus Gardner, who consulted the Television Match Official (TMO), after the first-five appeared to hit Springboks centre André Esterhuizen high with his shoulder in the 84th minute of the test England won 12-11.

If Farrell had been penalised, South Africa would have had one last opportunity to snatch victory with a penalty from a kickable position.

Avoiding a citing means Farrell is free to face the All Blacks this weekend.
AP
Avoiding a citing means Farrell is free to face the All Blacks this weekend.

Rob Debney, a professional English referee for 12 years from 1999-2011 whose first international appointment came in 2002, said Gardner was wrong and that Farrell's tackle was illegal.

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"[It] should have been a penalty. Just about every senior referee to whom I have spoken agrees with me," he wrote for The Times.

"Law 9.16 states: 'A player must not charge or knock down an opponent carrying the ball without attempting to grasp that player'.

"Angus Gardner, the referee, accepted that Farrell had made enough of an effort to wrap his left arm in the tackle. I disagree.

Farrell's hit in the 84th minute of England's test against South Africa went unpunished.
AP
Farrell's hit in the 84th minute of England's test against South Africa went unpunished.

"Farrell led with his right shoulder and his left arm belatedly came up. As he bounced off Esterhuizen, Farrell tried to dislodge the ball; he was not trying to wrap his arm."

Farrell avoiding a citing means England's star playmaker is free to face the All Blacks at Twickenham on Saturday (Sunday NZ time) but his hit on Esterhuizen was the major talking point of an otherwise uneventful test.

​England coach Eddie Jones described it as a "good solid tackle" and former Ireland and Lions captain Brian O'Driscoll agreed, saying the TMO got the call "spot on".

England celebrating their 12-11 triumph against South Africa at the final whistle.
GETTY IMAGES
England celebrating their 12-11 triumph against South Africa at the final whistle.

But former Ireland winger Luke Fitzgerald, who had to retire aged 28 with a neck injury, said that under current laws it should have been a "minimum of a penalty ... shocking adjudicating".

Ex-international referee Jonathan Kaplan, from South Africa, said Gardner got it wrong, opining that Farrell's "arm wrapping around is an afterthought".

Wallabies five-eighth Kurtley Beale was the latest to express his view on Farrell's tackle ahead of Australia's test with Wales in Cardiff on Saturday (Sunday NZ time), calling for consistency with decisions.

"It is inconsistent at times: a couple of years ago it [Farrell's challenge] is a red card, or a yellow or a penalty," he told reporters.

"You just want a level of consistency through the whole thing. Clarity will come with that."

After the match Farrell said: "If you watch that full speed, he has a big run-up on me and we both bounce off each other and end up on the floor.

"It's hard to wrap your arms around when you're both hitting each other at that much force, but I tried to."

Farrell is expected to shake off a bang to his hip after a thunderous tackle from the aforementioned Esterhuizen when England host the All Blacks this weekend.

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