Thursday 20 June 2019

World Rugby set a dangerous precedent by hanging Joubert out to dry

Conor O'Shea

A week on from the end of Ireland's World Cup journey and, as ever when expectations are not met, the post-mortems have been harsh and far-reaching.

Naturally, last Sunday's defeat was hugely disappointing but to me something potentially far more significant happened last week, in the shape of World Rugby's statement on Craig Joubert, the South African referee. Joubert gave a penalty against Scotland in the last minute of their quarter-final, wrongly so according to World Rugby. Australia took full advantage of the decision as Bernard Foley converted to give his side a one-point win.

I know how much it hurt Scotland because I welcomed wing Tim Visser back into our club last Tuesday but I cannot for the life of me understand what prompted World Rugby to issue that statement.

The question I have for World Rugby is where does this stop? In the Pro12, Aviva Premiership, Top 14, Six Nations and throughout this RWC, wrong decisions have been and will be made that change lives. To attempt to excuse it by saying that this was a high-profile decision that needed to be explained is to say that other decisions do not matter. Did they apologise and say the referee got it wrong when Wales defended the last England maul when Chris Robshaw kicked into the corner rather than going for goal?

Ask Stuart Lancaster how he feels that neither the referee nor his assistant penalised Wales for illegally taking out the English lineout lifters, nor Gethin Jenkins for coming in from the side. All illegal. All what Wales had to do to defend their lead, but illegal nevertheless. That was a life-changing moment but no English coach or player has come out and said anything because you don't do it, you can't do it. So why did World Rugby feel they needed to hang Craig Joubert out to dry?

This is going to be the thin end of the wedge. How can World Rugby discipline people who criticise referees when they have hung their own man out to dry?

Ireland were beaten by the better team last weekend but pause the game at 51.32 and 23-17 to Argentina and lip-read Paul O'Connell's reaction when Ramiro Herrera, the Argentinian tighthead, was not shown his second yellow card of the game and thereby a red card.

O'Connell, just like Joe Schmidt, knew it should have been a second yellow but it wasn't given. Say it in the aftermath and you are accused of sour grapes and no doubt Argentina were better on the day, but sometimes you need help, it was help that didn't happen.

That decision could be justified on a technicality, but the fact is the decision was wrong in the context of how coaches are advised that the game will be officiated. That's another game and competition-changing moment where a mistake was made, but wasn't complained about, so obviously didn't warrant an explanation.

If we wanted to really spoil the party, we could point out that the lineout before the scrums that lead to Japan's winning try against South Africa should have been penalised but that would be going too far. You see the truth is there are always mistakes and although you don't like being on the receiving end, you know that you don't control them. Ireland were beaten by a better team; England's discipline let them down allowing Wales to hang in and ultimately win; South Africa had come up against an inspired Japan; Scotland had conceded five tries and messed up their lineout.

Referees are human and make mistakes, like players and coaches, you accept it, keep your mouth shut (some of the time) and move on. Why World Rugby reacted to the baying crowd and issued a statement is beyond my comprehension. I get frustrated with referees, and there are also times when you look for decisions to bail you out, sometimes they do and sometimes they don't but you get on with your job and do what is done in rugby, and respect officials. You certainly don't humiliate them in public.

I feel extremely uncomfortable about last week's events, the implications for the future of the game and for the use of the TMO, because if I were a referee, I would go upstairs every time now for fear that if my error was exposed I would be hung out to dry by the people who are supposed to protect and support me.

Hopefully a lesson will be learned and this won't happen again. I really hope this is so because every week - and not just in the showpiece events - livelihoods are on the line. People must respect what has been the tenet of our game: the referee's decision is final.

The referees are the ones with the hardest job of all.

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