World Cup referees ordered to improve
World Rugby hits out at match officials who fail to act over dangerous tackles
‘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