Nigel Owens' performance over the weekend during Ireland's 15-13 Six Nations victory over France has drawn criticism from the public and media alike, with Brian O'Driscoll now questioning his policing of both sets of players at the ruck.
Speaking on Off The Ball AM this morning, the former Ireland and Leinster captain believes that the Welsh ref had a big influence on the way the game was played, noting his leniency at ruck time.
"I think it would have been a very, very different game if we had a different referee. Nigel likes an open game, and sometimes when the conditions aren't right for that you get almost a conflicting sense of what should be happening".
"If you had a Wayne Barnes there the penalty count would have been through the roof. He wouldn't have stood for that amount of the tackler lying on the ball".
While O'Driscoll criticised Owens for failing to award a number of penalties, he noted that the calls wouldn't have all been in Ireland's favour, though it was the Fench players were in more danger of seeing time in the sin bin.
"I thought, and a couple of times for Ireland as well, he could have penalised both teams collectively another five or six times at ruck time easily".
"I think you needed a referee to lay down the law early on, and I don't think Nigel ever did that. A couple of opportunities to brandish a yellow card to keep the French in check, with Vahaamahina in particular giving away three or four silly penalties. I think that had a big impact".
The tightly contested game became a dogged war of attrition instead of the free-flowing attacking contest many had hoped for, which is something O'Driscoll believes had a lot to do with how Owens allowed the players to act in the ruck.
"I think lots of players got held up, and French players were wrapping their arms in the bottoms of rucks, and unless you get a referee penalising that early on they're going to do it all day long".
"I'm a big fan of Nigel Owens, and I think he had an off day. As a result, he has a big impact on the fluidity of the game, and he just let it become an absolute scrap at ruck time, and you can't get any momentum. You can't get into the game through your multi-phase if you've super slow ruck ball because numbers are back on their feet, line speed is very aggressive, and the knock on effect is big numbers against similar numbers, and then it becomes very attritional".
Despite the performance, Ireland's all-time leading try scorer believes that Owens is still the game's top ref, though he questioned whether the Welshman would be happy with his performance in the Stade de France.
"I'd be really interested, I'd love to see the referee's match report and talk to Nigel to see how he evaluated his own performance because on the whole he is the world's best referee I think, being pushed hard by one or two others now, but it wasn't a day to remember for him".