TWICKENHAM, London — There was a sense of déjà vu for Warren Gatland as he processed Wales’ tight defeat to England on Saturday.
Two years ago at Twickenham his side had been denied what would have been a match-winning try by an errant flag from a touch judge. This time around it was the television match official (TMO) who potentially came between Wales and a famous victory.
Less than 23 minutes were on the clock when referee Jerome Garces sent the decision upstairs to Glenn Newman. To many of the 82,000 fans inside the stadium — and the Welsh coaching team in their box — it looked as though Gareth Anscombe had won the race to touch down.
But Newman did not believe there was a “clear and obvious” grounding, and advised Garces not to award the try. Cue cheers from the majority, and befuddled looks from those in red.
“You’ve just got to sometimes put up with unlucky decisions,” Gatland said afterwards as he reminded of the incident involving North. But it was clear he believed Mr. Newman had got it wrong.
“It looked like a try to me,” he added. “Everyone else that I’ve spoken to who have seen it, [said] it looked like a clear try. To me it’s disappointing that you get that decision wrong at such a pivotal moment of the game, such a big decision.
“They’ve flown a guy over from New Zealand to be a TMO and he has one big call to make, and unfortunately I think he’s made a terrible mistake. And at this level I think that’s pretty disappointing.”
Having thought they would have narrowed their deficit to at least seven points, Wales were made to make do with a Rhys Patchell penalty instead of a try. They would add a second-half three-pointer, while England would not score another point before the end of a brutal Test match.
Wales would lose by just six points. It was far from a given that Patchell would have converted had the try been awarded — he had already missed a much more presentable opportunity with a penalty earlier in the first half — but a full seven points would have taken them within touching distance of victory.
“It’s human error, he makes a mistake, but as this level in front of 82,000 people when there’s a lot at stake, guys have got to get those decisions right,” Gatland said.
“We’d looked at it ourselves in the box from a few different angles and we thought it was a try. We were surprised when the decision came.”
There was dismay, too, at the time it took Newman to make his judgement — around 70 seconds from the referral being made to the TMO making his recommendation — and Gatland suggested that he would seek clarity over how the officials arrived at the decision.
Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones agreed with his coach’s assessment. “I thought there was downward pressure, I’m not going to say no am I?” he said. “It was pretty simple from my point of view.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, England coach Eddie Jones was in no mood to question the outcome of the referral. “I don’t think I’ve ever made a comment about a TMO,” he said. “I think it’s one part of the game that’s done really well in rugby.
“We’ve got a guy up there who’s a referee. He’s got time to make a decision, and if he can’t make the right decision then what do we do?”
Wales will now regroup. Gatland is well aware that complaining to World Rugby will do nothing to alter the result of the contest at Twickenham. But there were positives for the Welsh camp from the way that they reacted. “I was really proud of the guys in terms of the effort,” Gatland added. “It was difficult to be really positive out there in the conditions.
“We kept England scoreless in the second half and we kept playing.”