Joubert let down by those who should look after him.
Don’t be surprised if you turn up for your game this weekend wherever you are in the rugby world and you’re missing one vital element – the referee.
The events of the last few days have been hard on referees and the treatment of one in particular – Craig Joubert – has brought shame on the sport and is in danger of alienating referees who as a result may turn their back on the game.
In the penultimate act of a thrilling weekend of Rugby World Cup quarter-final action, Joubert awarded a controversial offside penalty against Scotland that allowed Australia’s Bernard Foley to kick a match-winning penalty.
Fans exploded in rage at Twickenham, convinced, with the help of the big screen replays, that Australia’s Nick Phipps had got a crucial touch and that Joubert had made a huge mistake and robbed the Scots of a place in the final four.
Others, including some notable former players who should know better, helped fuel the fire on social media with their own – often vicious – condemnation of Joubert’s version of events.
Debate ensued on TV, radio and online with the help of endless replays that were not available to Joubert with protocols not allowing him to go to the Television Match Official.
As the referee, he got one look at the incident and had to make a decision without delay and he made a judgement call on what he thought he saw happen.
The countless re-runs still failed to convince some that he had made a mistake and provided clarity to others – including World Rugby.
The sport’s governing body took the rare and worrying step of issuing a statement that agreed that Joubert had got it wrong.
In excruciating detail, they outlined that Phipps had indeed played the ball rendering Scotland’s Jon Welsh onside and that the correct decision should have been a scrum to Australia – not a penalty.
The statement read: “The selection committee confirms that Joubert applied World Rugby Law 11.7 penalising Scotland’s Jon Welsh, who had played the ball following a knock-on by a team-mate, resulting in an offside. On review of all available angles, it is clear that after the knock-on, the ball was touched by Australia’s Nick Phipps and Law 11.3© states that a player can be put onside by an opponent who intentionally plays the ball."
“It is important to clarify that, under the protocols, the referee could not refer to the television match official in this case and therefore had to rely on what he saw in real time. In this case Law 11.3© should have been applied, putting Welsh onside. The appropriate decision, therefore, should have been a scrum to Australia for the original knock-on.”
World Rugby’s decision to effectively hang one of their leading employees out to dry is shocking.
In doing so, they have not only let Joubert down but every referee – from the elite game to grassroots level.
Referees must be able to do their job without fear of such public castigation or they will desert the sport at all levels and the most promising candidates, including more ex-players like Glen Jackson, may also turn their backs on the game.
Perhaps fearing ridicule, World Rugby have tried to provide clarity to everyone, including millions of casual fans lured by the World Cup who they hope to convert into hardcore supporters, but instead have only set a dangerous precedent and invited further criticism.
Does this mean every contentious decision is now going to be reviewed in such detail? Is every failure to apply the Laws correctly to be highlighted? Are referees going to be scolded for every mistake they make?
Joubert’s performance should be analysed by referee manager Joel Jutge as normal and feedback should have been provided to help maintain standards going forward – all behind closed doors.
It is important to remember that referees make mistakes all the time such is the technical and often frenetic nature of the game and this is accepted by players, coaches and supporters – although World Rugby are never going to highlight this fact.
It is left to high-profile individuals to offer some much-needed common sense.
Nigel Owens, arguably the most highly-rated referee at present and favourite to take charge of the World Cup final later this month, has previously admitted he is far from perfect.
“It’s impossible to referee a rugby match, especially of Test match intensity, without making a mistake,” he said in a recent interview. “You just hope the mistake you make is going to get lost in the game.”
Sadly for Joubert, on this occasion it did not despite the fact there were countless other variables at play during the game that arguably had an influence on the outcome of the contest.
Perhaps unsurprisingly Joubert has been overlooked for the semi-finals with Jerome Garces set to referee South Africa’s clash with New Zealand and Wayne Barnes appointed for Argentina’s showdown with Australia.
Joubert’s conduct at the final whistle last weekend will not have helped his cause with his decision to make a swift exit rather than, as is traditional, shake hands with both players and draw a line under the contest.
World Rugby chose not to address this matter in their statement with some speculating he may have feared for his safety after missiles were allegedly thrown in his direction.
His rather rapid actions, just like World Rugby’s statement, appeared to go totally against some of the traditions of the game that have always been its trump card.
Those same principles are also part of World Rugby’s continued efforts to boost playing numbers around the globe but without referees they are just people throwing a ball around.
The treatment of Joubert and World Rugby’s failure to stand by their man will, sadly, ensure that many referees or would-be officials will put the whistle at the back of the draw or ditch those dreams forever which is bad news for the sport at all levels.