World Rugby has issued an extraordinary statement that criticises the performance of officials at the Rugby World Cup in Japan, claiming that they have accepted their decisions over the opening weekend of the tournament “were not consistently of the standards set” at the highest level of the game.
A number of controversial incidents were highlighted in the wake of the opening round of fixtures, most notably the tackle from Australia wing Reece Hodge on Fiji’s Peceli Yato that left him concussed and resulted in a post-match citing, despite match referee Ben O’Keeffe and TMO Rowan Kitt insisting at the time that his tackle was legal.
O’Keeffe was also heavily criticised on social media for issuing a yellow card to Fiji centre Levani Botia, despite a video of the breakdown in question showing Wallabies captain Michael Hooper committing an offence by coming in at the side to clear him out.
The incident followed a similar one in Japan’s victory over Russia in Friday night’s curtain-raiser, when Japan lock James Moore escaped action for a no-arm tackle on Russia’s Vasily Dorofeev that was referenced on social media by former Namibia captain Jacques Burger as “looks like the officials missed a potential red card”.
Yet in an unprecedented move by the game’s governing body, World Rugby has admitted they are taking steps to improve the standard of refereeing at Japan 2019 as the current levels have not been up to scratch.
A World Rugby statement read: “Following the usual review of matches, the match officials team recognise that performances over the opening weekend of Rugby World Cup 2019 were not consistently of the standards set by World Rugby and themselves, 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.”
The only previous instance of an incident where World Rugby have stepped in over an official’s performance came following the Six Nations match in 2018 between England and Wales, when Gareth Anscombe had a potential try incorrectly ruled out by TMO Glenn Newman.
On that occasion, World Rugby made the clarification to Wales head coach Warren Gatland via Alain Rolland, their high performance 15s match officials’ manager, which was then revealed by assistant Rob Howley in public that triggered a clarification.
The statement read: “World Rugby has clarified to the Wales team management as part of the usual review process with teams that the TMO made an error in the application of law during the England versus Wales match at Twickenham. In accordance with law 21.1 b Wales should have been awarded a try as the Wales player grounded the ball.”
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