‘Captain’s Call’ would minimise rugby ref mistakes

Jonny Gray, left, and Josh Strauss, center, watch Craig Joubert as he runs off the pitch. Picture: APJonny Gray, left, and Josh Strauss, center, watch Craig Joubert as he runs off the pitch. Picture: AP
Jonny Gray, left, and Josh Strauss, center, watch Craig Joubert as he runs off the pitch. Picture: AP
RETIRED rugby referee Jonathan Kaplan has suggested each team should be given a captain’s challenge to review any decision in a match in a bid to eradicate the type of error which cost Scotland in their World Cup quarter-final against Australia.

Kaplan, who refereed a record 68 Tests matches, believes the laws of the game have become too complicated and called for “revolutionary thinking”. He welcomed advances in technology to aid the officials but fears they have not gone far enough.

Outraged critics have lambasted South African whistler Craig Joubert for the contentious penalty he awarded for offside against Scotland on Sunday which led to Wallabies stand-off Bernard Foley kicking a last-minute goal for a 35-34 win. For the four minutes until then, Scotland had a two-point lead and threatened a massive upset.

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World Rugby released a statement on Monday to say that Joubert had made a mistake in awarding Australia their decisive penalty.

The 37-year-old Joubert left the field quickly after the match, sparking more criticism, and has not commented publicly since.

Kaplan now fears for the image of the game. A veteran of four World Cups who retired two years ago, he was scathing yesterday of the former players who lined up to criticise his compatriot Joubert. But he believes changes need to be made, particularly with the introduction of a “captain’s challenge”.

“I have regularly expressed deep concern that the laws of the game are too complex, not only for the public, but for the players too,” he wrote in his column for RatetheRef website. “To have this much conjecture is not good for anyone, least of all the integrity of the game. There are laws in the law book that we knowingly and willingly don’t apply and there are addendums, or whatever you want to call them, to help clarify what is stated in the law book. Is this good for the game?

“In addition, I have long said that technology is here to stay. But for all the interventions by the TMOs, particularly in respect of foul play, they were hamstrung and could not contribute to one of the defining moments of the tournament.

“This was not a try-scoring situation and it was not foul play. A captain’s challenge may have solved the problem. We have to give more power to the players and coaches (and allow them to challenge questionable calls) and less to the men in the middle (the best of whom are making errors quite regularly. The game has become too quick and too complex for even the best to get it right, and perhaps we need a revolutionary change in thinking when it comes to game administration. Actually, not perhaps, but definitely!”

Kaplan said some of the comments by former players about Joubert were a disgrace and also criticised Scotland for failing to execute the late lineout which led to the penalty incident. He said: “I don’t accept the vitriolic comments by some pundits and ex-players who are being paid big money by networks to offer their opinions. Some of what has gone on is ‘the’ disgrace. I’m not referring to supporters, who are entitled to voice their grievances. What will be done about it? Probably nothing.

“While not detracting from the controversy and its aftermath, I’ve yet to see much said about Scotland butchering the throw at the lineout. They had a chance to win possession, maul it and win the game. They didn’t. If Joubert’s decision was wrong, and some are entitled to think that, and he has made an error of judgment, then why nothing about the Scottish throw in? I know it doesn’t excuse a potential error by the officials, but let’s try and be even-handed if we are going to criticise.”

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Kaplan said Joubert had been feeling the pressure since Sunday’s match.

“I have been in contact with him, he is not happy, and is taking a bit of strain but is coping well,” Kaplan said. “I am letting him be for a couple of days, and I know what it is like to feel like you have let people down.”

Australia coach Michael Cheika has repeatedly defended Joubert. “It is a bit surprising because no other decision in the tournament has been reviewed,” Cheika said yesterday. “I’ve never seen that before. I am not sure why that decision had to be publicly reviewed and put out there. I really hope his fellow referees stand by him. Unfortunately in this instance, people have taken the game off the field and gotten quite personal about it.”

World Rugby said in Monday’s statement that having reviewed the incident, the “appropriate decision was a scrum to Australia for the original knock-on” and not a penalty.

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