Referee JP Doyle will take charge of the European Champions Cup semi-final between Racing 92 and Munster despite the presence of an Irish side in the tie, with officials confident that the appointment of the Irishman to the key fixture is “appropriate” given the current crisis that World Rugby face regarding the Belgium vs Spain incident.
Despite being registered with England’s Rugby Football Union and turning out each week in the Premiership, Doyle hails from Dublin, and his selection for the match would open European Premier Club Rugby [EPCR] to scrutiny given the current climate surrounding referee appointments.
This surrounds the fallout from the Rugby Europe Championship tie between Belgium and Spain last month that saw an all-Romanian set of officials appointed to the match even though it had a direct influence on Romania’s chances of qualifying for the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Having reviewed the appointment – which remained even though Spain lodged an official complaint with Rugby Europe before the match – World Rugby wanted the game to be replayed, but subsequent accusations of player ineligibility from a number of teams has lead to an independent disputes committee being set-up to investigate the matter further, causing widespread embarrassment for the governing body and the potential to completely undermine the Rugby Europe Champions as the continent’s second-tier competition.
It is in light of this controversy that it was surprising to see Doyle selected as one of the two referees who will take charge of the Champions Cup semi-finals, given that there is an Irish side in either game. Romain Poite, the French referee, will officiate the other semi-final between Irish province Leinster and Welsh region Scarlets, with Doyle allocated the second semi-final in Bordeaux between Racing 92 and Munster.
But even though it raises a scenario where there is the potential for accusations of favouritism, EPCR believe that Doyle’s track record proves that he is the right candidate to take charge of such a high-profile match.
An EPCR spokesman told The Independent: ““EPCR’s match official selection committee, chaired by EPCR’s Head of Match Officials Joel Jutge, is certain that JP Doyle is an appropriate appointment for this high-profile semi-final.
“JP Doyle has progressed through the match official ranks under the aegis of the RFU and is a full-time employee of the RFU.
“He has refereed matches between French clubs and Irish provinces since 2010, and this season he was appointed for the Champions Cup, Round Two match between Munster Rugby and Racing 92. Last season he took charge of the Leinster Rugby vs Montpellier match in Round Five, and the quarter-final between Munster and Toulouse.
“He also refereed a Test match between Ireland and Georgia in 2014."
It’s worth noting that Doyle took charge of the European Challenge Cup quarter-final between Stade Francais and Pau and was able to converse with the two teams in French, which would make him suitable for an Irish-French clash, as other referees have been criticised for not communicating with Top 14 sides this season in a language that they fully understand.
But should his performance come under scrutiny, there could well be questions about his appointment regardless of his track record, given that there are other referee’s available. All four quarter-finals in the Champions Cup were refereed by officials who had no allegiance to either club through their homeland, while the Challenge Cup semi-finals that also take place next weekend have been allocated to referees of neutral nationality.