For long seconds, the Bristol stadium, already almost empty, froze in silence. On one side of the pitch, the Exeter players awaited release. On the other, those of Racing, led by four points, hoped for a last ball to pass the English to score. And all these beautiful people had their eyes riveted on Nigel Owens, who had a finger on his earpiece to better hear his video referee.
Between the Welshman and the man in the cabin, we discussed numbers: had the regulation time elapsed, or did we still have to type a reference? A matter of simple appearance, but in reality complicated. Because the control of the stopwatch escaped the refereeing body in the last minute.
Nigel Owens facing the English maneuver
It all started with a whistled penalty in favor of Exeter, in the French camp, at 79’1 ”. The English then lead by one point, and this decision brings them a little closer to the European Cup. It remains to manage these 59 ” remaining, with the aim of reaching 80’0 ” without the Racing benefiting from a final possession. There are two options for this: go to touch, conquer the ball, scroll the stopwatch to 80’0 ” and hit again; or attempt the goal by arranging for it to pass while the clock is in the red, which would automatically end the match.
The Chiefs hang around to make their choice. Thirty-three seconds pass before Nigel Owens, sensing the English maneuver, abruptly asks his assistants: “Stop the clock! ”(“ Stop the stopwatch! ”). But the time goes from 79’32 “to 79’37” before following the order of the referee. Realizing the problem, Owens asks to turn the clock back 5 seconds. But that seems technically impossible.
How can we make up for this potentially decisive time? Owens has an idea. After asking the English for their choice, he waits for Joe Simmonds to put his tee down to start aloud a five-second countdown after which he asks the time attendant to restart the stopwatch. After that, he’s supposed to be on time now. But it does not restart. After having been ahead, here he is falling behind. For at least twenty-four seconds, 79’37 ” continues to be displayed.
When the clock finally starts up again, Joe Simmonds hasn’t stumbled yet. His ball goes between the poles at 79’52 ”. If we trust this display, the dismissal must be played, and Racing can dream of a turnaround in the event of recovery. But Nigel Owens knows something has gone wrong. He summons the captains to the center of the field and tells them that he is going to ask the video referee to “check” the situation.
“When the ball passes, is the time up? “, he asks into his microphone. The answer given to him, and which we do not hear, seems confused. “So it’s not over?” “, he asks. Then a few seconds later, new conclusion: “So time’s up?” “ This time he got it. And the decision is fair. After checking, at least 30 seconds elapsed between the moment Nigel Owens asked to restart the clock (79’37 ”) and the moment Joe Simmonds’ penalty went between the bars.