World Cup ref­er­ees or­dered to im­prove

World Rugby hits out at match of­fi­cials who fail to act over dan­ger­ous tack­les

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By Char­lie Morgan in Kobe

‘Ref­eree dis­plays were not of the stan­dard set by World Rugby’

World Rugby yes­ter­day took the un­prece­dented step of pub­licly crit­i­cis­ing the per­for­mance of its ref­er­ees in Ja­pan in a des­per­ate bid to quell grow­ing anger over dan­ger­ous tack­les at the tour­na­ment.

The global gov­ern­ing body in­di­cated that its of­fi­cials had fallen short of prom­ises to pro­tect play­ers by crack­ing down on high tack­les and shoul­der-charges with se­vere on-field sanc­tions.

Af­ter an open­ing week­end lit­tered with con­tro­ver­sial flash­points, in­clud­ing a chal­lenge from Aus­tralia wing Reece Hodge that caused Fiji flanker Pe­celi Yato to leave the field with con­cus­sion, World Rugby re­leased an ex­tra­or­di­nary mea culpa.

One of rugby’s dis­tinc­tive fea­tures is the re­spect ac­corded to ref­er­ees, with dis­sent at de­ci­sions min­i­mal com­pared to other sports. There are fears yes­ter­day’s move could be­gin to un­der­mine that.

Af­ter the first eight games, World Rugby vowed that of­fi­cials would im­prove dur­ing the tour­na­ment.

It said: “Fol­low­ing the usual re­view of matches, the match of­fi­cials team recog­nise that per­for­mances over the open­ing week­end were not con­sis­tently of the stan­dards set by World Rugby and them­selves, but World Rugby is con­fi­dent of the high­est stan­dards of of­fi­ci­at­ing mov­ing for­ward.

“Elite match of­fi­cials are re­quired to make de­ci­sions in com­plex, high-pres­sure sit­u­a­tions and there have been ini­tial chal­lenges with the use of tech­nol­ogy and team com­mu­ni­ca­tion, which have im­pacted de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Th­ese are al­ready be­ing ad­dressed by the team of 23 match of­fi­cials to en­hance con­sis­tency.

“Given this proac­tive ap­proach, a strong team ethic and a su­perb sup­port struc­ture, World Rugby has ev­ery con­fi­dence in the team to en­sure that Rugby World Cup 2019 de­liv­ers the high­est lev­els of ac­cu­rate, clear and con­sis­tent de­ci­sion-mak­ing.”

Barely an hour later, dur­ing the first half of their 34-9 vic­tory over Rus­sia, there was fur­ther con­tro­versy as Samoa es­caped red cards for two sep­a­rate high-tackle in­ci­dents.

First, Rey Lee-lo’s shoul­der ap­peared to make con­tact with the chin of Rus­sia full­back and cap­tain Vasily Arte­myev in a tackle. Then hooker Motu Matu’u clashed heads with Arte­myev in an­other, wilder tackle at­tempt.

Fol­low­ing dis­cus­sions with English tele­vi­sion match of­fi­cial Gra­ham Hughes, ref­eree Ro­main Poite ruled Arte­myev was dip­ping both times and showed yel­low cards.

“It’s a tough one to pass com­ment upon,” said Rus­sia head coach Lyn Jones on be­ing asked about Samoa’s sin-bin­nings. “The of­fi­cials are there to make judg­ments.

“In our box, we were ex­pect­ing a more se­vere penalty than what was given, but Mr Ro­main is a far more ex­pe­ri­enced man than I am at mak­ing those types of de­ci­sion. If there is a case to an­swer, there are proper chan­nels for peo­ple to go down.”

In the build-up to the tour­na­ment, World Rugby had ramped up its bid to change the be­hav­iour of play­ers to re­duce the num­ber of con­cus­sions. The de­liv­ery of more se­vere on-field sanc­tions was ear­marked as a nec­es­sary step.

World Rugby clar­i­fied def­i­ni­tions of shoul­der-charges and high tack­les. It pub­lished a de­ci­sion­mak­ing frame­work in an at­tempt to in­crease the con­sis­tency of th­ese pun­ish­ments and to clar­ify what ac­tions should merit red cards, yel­low cards and penal­ties.

But the first nine matches of the World Cup – and wide­spread con­ster­na­tion at overly-le­nient ref­er­ee­ing de­ci­sions – has threat­ened to un­der­mine that work.

Hodge was cited for his chal­lenge on Yato that es­caped a card from ref­eree Ben O’ke­effe but faces a dis­ci­plinary hear­ing to­day.

It has been re­ported that Ross Tucker, the South African sports sci­en­tist who helped to es­tab­lish the de­ci­sion-mak­ing frame­work, was asked to delete a Twit­ter post say­ing Hodge should have re­ceived a red card.

The dis­sent that has ac­com­pa­nied such in­ci­dents, and in­deed World Rugby’s ro­bust ad­dress of them, would seem to threaten rugby union’s tra­di­tional con­cept that re­spect for the ref­eree’s fi­nal de­ci­sion is sacro­sanct.

Fol­low­ing France’s 23-21 win over Ar­gentina, Reuters re­ported that France loose­head prop Jef­fer­son Poirot said “we got screwed” by An­gus Gard­ner’s in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the scrum.

Mean­while, The New Zealand Herald has al­leged that All Blacks cap­tain Kieran Read la­belled Jerome Garces’s de­ci­sion not to show a yel­low card to South Africa wing Maka­zole Mapimpi as “gut­less”.

Aus­tralia coach Michael Cheika ac­cused World Rugby of un­der­min­ing its own ref­er­ees with the cit­ing of Hodge. “What is un­nerv­ing is their lack of con­fi­dence in ref­er­ees,” he said.

Speak­ing out: Aus­tralia coach Michael Cheika says World Rugby has un­der­mined its own of­fi­cials

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