Controversial calls keep coming after World Rugby criticises Japan 2019 referees
World Rugby issued an extraordinary statement on Tuesday, criticising the performance of officials at the World Cup – only to immediately face a fresh storm of refereeing controversy.
A series of high-profile errors have prompted the game’s global governing body to concede that the officials’ “performances over the opening weekend were not consistently of the standards set by World Rugby and themselves”.
But no sooner had the statement been published than two dangerous tackles in Samoa’s emphatic 34-9 victory over Russia turned contention into farce.
Rey Lee-Lo’s shoulder-to-chin challenge on Russia’s Vasily Artemyev was initially going to be sanctioned by a red card by Romain Poite until the Frenchman was talked down by TMO Graham Hughes.
Three minutes later, Artemyev was the victim of a head-to-head tackle by Motu Matu’u.
Lee-Lo and Matu’u received yellow cards only, despite clear grounds under World Rugby’s crackdown on dangerous tackles to dismiss both players.
The reason for downgrading the punishment on each occasion was because Artemyev was dipping when contact was made.
Working in the capacity as pundits for ITV, former England women’s flanker Maggie Alphonsi and former Wales captain Gareth Thomas accused referees of finding reasons not to give red cards.
“Before, it used to be black and white, but now everybody is in this grey area and they don’t know what to do. It’s like they’re trying to find a way out rather than protecting the players,” Thomas said.
Prior to Tuesday’s clash in Saitama, the World Cup had produced a number of blunders headlined by Ben O’Keeffe’s failure to punish Australia wing Reece Hodge for a shoulder-led, no-arms tackle to the head of Fiji’s Peceli Yato in Sapporo on Saturday.
Yato subsequently failed a head injury assessment and Hodge has since been cited, with his hearing scheduled for Wednesday.
In the same game, Levani Botia was sin-binned for killing the ball even though Wallabies captain Michael Hooper had entered the ruck from the side during the build-up to the yellow card.
And in Friday’s tournament opener, Japan lock James Moore escaped sanction for a no-arms tackle against Russia.
The breakdown has frequently been chaotic, creating plenty of debate, and it was an illegal clear-out that led to the World Cup-ending knee injury Scotland flanker Hamish Watson suffered against Ireland on Sunday.
There has also been criticism from pundits over the inconsistent way the off-side line has been enforced.
Despite only being one round into Japan 2019, World Rugby revealed that officials are disappointed by the quality of their work in an unprecedented statement.
“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,” the statement read.
“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.”