World Rugby are investigating the controversial photograph of referee Jaco Peyper, who appeared to recreate Sebastien Vahaamahina’s elbow that he was sent off for just hours before in France’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat against Wales.
Peyper showed the French second-row a straight red card in the 49th minute of Saturday’s match at the Oita Stadium, a game-changing moment that helped Wales fight back to snatch a 20-19 victory and knock France out of the World Cup, after he deliberately struck Welsh flanker Aaron Wainwright with an elbow.
But the South African official landed himself in hot water by posing for a picture with a group of Welsh fans at Oita train station just hours after the match, infuriating the French Rugby Federation enough that vice-president Dr Serge Simon called for an investigation.
“This photo if it is true is shocking and explanations will be necessary,” Dr Simon wrote on Twitter.
One French rugby great commented that the image of Peyper was “crazy” and “is not good at all, and not good for Wales either”, adding that it calls into question whether he could ever take charge of a French game again due to the side questioning his integrity.
In response, World Rugby have confirmed that they are looking into the matter, and with a referee’s meeting taking place on Monday ahead of the official appointments for this weekend’s semi-finals – due to be announced on Tuesday – it seems unlikely that Peyper will find himself in the running.
A World Rugby spokesperson said: “World Rugby is aware of a picture on social media of referee Jaco Peyper with a group of Wales fans taken after last night’s quarter-final between Wales and France in Oita. It would be inappropriate to comment further while we are establishing the facts.”
It’s understood that while World Rugby understand the photograph is an innocent interaction with fans, they are unhappy with Peyper who should have known better than allow the moment to occur.
Peyper flew from Oita to Tokyo on Monday to attend the referee’s meeting, where he encountered a number of Wales fans looking to replicate the image from the night before – only for Peyper to politely decline.
The South African was taking charge of his 50th Test at the weekend, which World Rugby had made a strong reference to when announcing their quarter-final officials at the World Cup, which were also officiated by Nigel Owens, Jerome Garces and Wayne Barnes, and with Barnes ineligible to take charge of England's semi-final against New Zealand, Peyper stood a good chance of getting one of the weekend's matches.
Both Warren Gatland and Jacques Brunel agreed with the red card
“The officials dealt with it appropriately,” Gatland said. “I don't think anyone could complain about that. The right decision was made. Rugby is heat of the moment stuff and he made an error of judgement. When you have got a lot of testosterone involved in some pretty high intensity games, that will sometimes happen. He's made a poor decision.”
Departing French head coach Brunel also had no complaints with the decision. “The red card I don’t contest, when you see the images it’s very clear,” said Brunel.
“He had a reflex action and made contact with his face, we cannot deny that so I don’t have any problem with that decision.”
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