It is not just the thought of Grand Slam-hunting France searching for their first Six Nations win at Twickenham since 2005 that has generated intrigue for this weekend’s Le Crunch. The match referee, Andrew Brace, offers a compelling subplot above and beyond England’s disciplinary woes in what is seen as a must-win match for both teams.
Brace was in charge for England’s controversial Autumn Nations Cup final victory over France in December last year. Jaco Peyper was originally supposed to be taking charge of this weekend’s fixture but, when he was unable to travel due to restrictions on people arriving from South Africa to the UK, the Six Nations committee decided that Brace was the man for the job.
Considering the appalling backlash that Brace encountered after England’s victory, his appointment for Saturday’s match did raise a few eyebrows, but the Six Nations committee have defied the abusers and put their faith in the Welsh-born official.
But who is he and what happened in December to cause controversy? Telegraph Sport explains all.
Who is he?
The 32-year-old is an international referee, contracted to the Irish Rugby Union, who officiates in the Pro14 and European competitions. Prior to becoming a professional referee, Welsh-born Brace held community rugby roles at both Munster and Cardiff. He was also a keen player while living in Ireland, and played five times for Belgium, qualifying through his father’s family, and also represented them at sevens.
What’s his track record?
Brace refereed his first Test in 2017, a 2019 Rugby World Cup qualifier between Canada and the United States, and also refereed England’s annual tussle with the Barbarians in the same year. The following year, he refereed his first ‘Tier One’ Test, between Argentina and Wales. He has served as a referee and assistant referee in both the Six Nations and Rugby Championship, and featured at the 2019 World Cup in the latter role.
Why is his appointment controversial
Brace was the man with the whistle for England’s victory over France in Dec 2020, a match which required a period of extra-time in order to declare a winner. A second-string French side were on the wrong side of a couple of crucial decisions towards the latter stages of that match, both of which led to England scores and, in turn, their fightback.
France felt that several crucial decisions went against them in the cup-final loss, with head coach Fabien Galthié saying after the match that “the game was won by decisions not actions… losing because of decisions is hard”. Brace ruled against France in two borderline incidents – by back-rowers Cameron Woki and Selevasio Tolofua – and also missed a potential knock-on in the build-up to England’s late, game-saving try.
Galthié’s assistant, Shaun Edwards, told BT Sport after the match: “We’d like to have a bit of an explanation about the knock-on in the last tackle which led to a try.
“There was a knock-on in the lead-up. The referees can’t see everything and neither can the touch judges but we were a little bit disappointed… the TMO could have interfered in that decision.”
As revealed by Telegraph Sport, the backlash that Brace received following his decisions in that match led to European Professional Club Rugby standing him down from Exeter Chiefs’ (eventually postponed) Champions Cup match in Toulouse. EPCR cited “welfare” concerns as the main driver for switching Brace from a France-based fixture, with the 32-year-old taking charge of Wasps’ victory over Montpellier at the Ricoh Arena instead.
If familiarity breeds contempt, then referee Andrew Brace might benefit from a few glances over his shoulder at Twickenham on Saturday, but that was not the first time that the official had found himself in the midst of high-profile controversy.
Brace was the referee for Bath’s infamous 2018 Champions Cup loss to Toulouse, a match made notorious by Freddie Burns having the ball knocked out of his hands over French side’s tryline. Bath were left furious by Brace’s leniency towards two Toulouse tackles, both of which resulted in citings and bans for the respective players – Jerome Kaino and Lucas Pointud – but neither of which received any on-field sanction at the Rec.