THE head of World Rugby has failed to endear himself to Scottish rugby fans by joking that the referee who sprinted off the field after making a controversial last-minute penalty decision which knocked Scotland out of the Rugby World Cup may have “needed a bathroom break”.
Brett Gosper, chief executive of rugby’s governing body, also claimed South African Craig Joubert’s run for freedom amidst a chorus of booing at the end of the quarter final at Twickenham may been prompted by “crowd hostility”.
Reports in Australia and New Zealand claiming a bottle was thrown at Joubert, causing him to flee, were wide of the mark. The referee was already off the pitch and in the tunnel leading to the dressing rooms before this happened.
In a dramatic last few minutes played in a heavy downpour, Joubert, 37, awarded Scotland’s opponents, Australia, a match-winning penalty, resulting in the Wallabies winning 35-34.
Joubert’s dash for freedom, or safety, to the sanctuary of the changing room meant he also failed to shake hands with either of the team captains or players.
Last night the sport’s global governing body, World Rugby, confirmed that Joubert had made the wrong decision to award Australia a penalty. But earlier, when speaking about Joubert’s performance to BBC Radio 5 live, Gosper said: “Mistakes do happen but it’s a tough job. There’s a review taking place of all aspects, including his exit from the pitch. Maybe he was keen to get to the bathroom, who knows?
“Craig Joubert is a superb referee and has been for a long time and he’s a good man. There will be reasons for whatever Craig did.”
Gosper added: “When you have a hostile 82,000 people, for whatever reason, who knows how that affects behaviour? I’m sure as a referee he sensed a bit of hostility.”
He added: “There seems to be some controversy around it and we are doing a full review of that.
“The match officials are assessed by a match assessor, by each team and Joel Jutge, the head of our match officials.”
The controversy centres round the final stages of the game when Scotland were leading Australia 34-32 with two minutes of the match remaining. Joubert ruled that Scottish replacement prop Jon Welsh was deliberately offside when he grabbed the ball and awarded a penalty taken by Wallaby fly-half Bernard Foley which earned the Australians a place in the last four.
Replays show Australian player Nick Phipps touched the ball before Welsh, making the Scot onside rather than offside, and Joubert should have awarded a scrum rather than a penalty. Both Vern Cotter, Scotland coach, and captain Greig Laidlaw have said the referee should have consulted the television match official,
Former Scotland captain Gavin Hastings described Joubert’s hasty retreat as “the worst thing I have seen on a rugby field in a very long time”.
Doddie Weir, former Scotland rugby international, said: “It’s a shame it has ended up this way. Instead of remembering a great game we have a fiasco. Given the level of the game the referee should have asked to check the video footage.”
Matt Dawson, part of the England’s World Cup-winning side of 2003, criticised the referee’s behaviour as being “disrespectful to the game”. Dawson tweeted: “Craig Joubert, you are a disgrace and should never referee again!! How dare you sprint off the pitch after that decision!!!”