England coach Eddie Jones broke his own rule about never criticising match officials when he described the late red card for Manu Tuilagi as “absolute rubbish” and claimed England ended up playing against 16 men in their 33-30 Six Nations win over Wales on Saturday.
England looked to be cruising to victory at Twickenham but were reduced to 13 men after a yellow card for prop Ellis Genge following a succession of penalties and the red for Tuilagi with around five minutes remaining as he crashed his shoulder into the head of George North while making a try-saving tackle.
New Zealand referee Ben O’Keefe referee had a long discussion with South African TMO Marius Jonker before ruling that although North was low to the ground, there were “no mitigating circumstances” that prevented him sending off the powerful centre.
That led to Wales scoring two tries and 14 unanswered points in the final minutes of the game.
Jones said things were made particularly difficult as it “ended up as “13 against 16”. Asked to elaborate, he told journalists: “You work it out.
“I find it bizarre, I usually don’t comment, but I don’t see how you can tackle a guy. How else are you supposed to tackle him?” asked the Australian.
“This bit about where your arms are – what a load of rubbish. I think there’s no common sense applied in that situation It’s absolute rubbish.
“Clearly the guy’s falling, there’s a good chop tackle, Manu’s coming over the top to kill the tackle and doing everything he’s supposed to be doing – come on! “When you have a three-man advantage it’s going to do some damage, so I thought we were exceptional. It was a good, tough win.”
The Tuilagi tackle was the sort that was penalised relentlessly during last year’s World Cup after a World Rugby directive. England were themselves the beneficiaries when Argentina’s Tomas Lavanini was sent off for charging Owen Farrell 17 minutes into their pool game.
Wales coach Wayne Pivac simply said he thought Tuilagi’s red card was the correct decision.
Once he had got the referee rant off his chest, Jones said he was delighted with the fight his team had shown, particularly with some of the squad struggling to train during the week and with replacement centre Henry Slade having to fill in at fullback for most of the match after an early head injury to winger Jonny May.
Having started the competition with a defeat in France, England have now beaten Scotland, Ireland and Wales, looking very good for long spells.
“We are a better team now than at the World Cup,” Jones said. “We can play sharp and quick but we can really tough it out and find a way to win too, and that’s what pleased me today.”
Farrell was also delighted. “A few less players on the pitch at the end made it difficult, but in terms of effort and composure when they put us under pressure, it was brilliant,” he said.
“We got points back at the right times and seemed to be in control. We enjoy defending, being physical. At times I thought we got off the line and put them under some pressure, and that’s a big part of the game.
“I thought we stayed calm in key moments. Wales are a great team, they’re always going to throw everything at us and have their moments, but under the sticks, it felt good, it felt calm.”
England should now be starting to prepare for their final game, away to Italy next week, but with that fixture postponed to a yet-to-be-decided date, the players will return to their clubs and look on to see if France falter in their last two games.