Andrew Brace, the referee who came under fire for his performance in England’s Autumn Nations Cup final victory over France, has been removed from Champions Cup duty in Toulouse next weekend as a result of the personal abuse he has received.
Irishman Brace was due to officiate Exeter Chiefs’ pool game against Toulouse at the Stade Ernest-Wallon on Sunday 20 December, but European Professional Club Rugby has confirmed that he has been stood down from the match due to the “personal nature” of the abuse that he has been targeted with.
Instead, Brace will take charge of Wasps’ home encounter with Montpellier on Friday night, with the governing body deeming it safer for him to officiate at the Ricoh Arena as opposed to in France.
Brace was criticised by the French coaching team for a number of decisions that resulted in France letting a 19-12 lead slip, with Luke Cowan-Dickie’s late try taking the final to extra-time where Owen Farrell was able to kick a sudden-death penalty to seal victory.
Two knock-ons in the lead up to Cowan-Dickie’s try were missed by the match officials, while France were unhappy with a penalty against Selevasio Tolofua in the first half of extra-time, as well as the match-deciding infringement that allowed Farrell to kick the winning goal.
Head coach Fabien Galthie rued the decisions that went against his side, and though he did not namecheck Brace directly, his frustration left it in little doubt over who he felt contributed towards the defeat.
“It’s a defeat, we must accept it. We concede the defeat but it’s also frustrating,” Galthie said. “The game was lost on details but also on (refereeing) decisions, it’s very frustrating.”
Defence coach Shaun Edwards added: "We'd like to have a bit of an explanation about the knock-on in the last tackle which led to a try.
"There was a knock-on in the lead-up. The referees can't see everything and neither can the touch judges but we were a little bit disappointed... the TMO could have interfered in that decision."
However, Brace received more vitriolic abuse on social media, where he was tagged in posts from angry supporters that had his father’s obituary attached.
As a result, EPCR made the early decision to move him from duty in France and swap him with Scottish official Mike Adamson, who will now take charge of the clash between the reigning European champions and last season’s beaten semi-finalists.
An EPCR spokesperson said: "The Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup Match Officials selection committee, chaired by Joel Jutge, EPCR’s Head of Match Officials, decided that due to the personal nature of some of the criticism levelled at Andrew Brace following last weekend’s Autumn Nations Cup match between England and France, it would be prudent on this occasion to make the appointment changes.
"EPCR and the selection committee regard Andrew Brace as a highly-talented match official, and with his welfare and development as a referee to the fore, this course of action was deemed to be appropriate in the circumstances."
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