Rugby World Cup
In defence of Craig Joubert - how TMO has changed the nature of refereeing
John Taylor
October 22, 2015
World Cup organisers admit Joubert's Scotland error

When Wayne Barnes first came up with the idea of his 'Referees Unplugged' evening it was conceived as a social event with some of his World Cup colleagues sharing anecdotes off the record about some of the more amusing experiences in their refereeing careers to raise money for the breast cancer charity he supports. He did not envisage it becoming the hottest ticket in Town because of the controversy surrounding the Scotland v Australia game.

Craig Joubert was supposed to be one of his guests but, understandably, felt unable to attend. He is still feeling too bruised by the way he has been treated since his mistake condemned Scotland to a cruel defeat. However, Nigel Owens and Glen Jackson did join Barnes for a lively Q&A and, inevitably, that penalty was high on everybody's agenda. To their credit the referees refused to duck the issue.

What obviously hurt them most was the over the top reaction from former English and Scottish players turned pundits. They are particularly angry at the 'disgrace' tag tweeted by Matt Dawson who also ranted that Joubert should never be allowed to referee at the top level again.

Craig Joubert awards the match-deciding penalty © Getty Images
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I spent the early noughties covering the International Sevens circuit for ITV and that is where Barnes, Owens and Joubert cut their teeth as international referees. They grew up together and we all often stayed in the same hotels so I got to know them all quite well. One thing is certain; Joubert is a thoroughly decent human being and a very good referee. He does not deserve such abuse and, although his friends were understandably guarded in talking about his reaction, it is obvious he feels badly let-down by World Rugby's unprecedented statement hanging him out to dry.

What did not come out in the Q&A is the obvious dissatisfaction felt by the referees at some of the protocols they are supposed to obey, particularly involving the Television Match Official. Barnes and Owens both admitted privately that they would have found an excuse to see a replay before making their decision about the knock-on even though, officially, it could not be referred to the TMO because it did not happen in the build-up to a try or involve foul play - inventing a possible worry about foul play, thus giving you a reason to ask for a replay, is one way of circumventing the rules so that you can be sure you are making the right decision.

Proud Scotland fans lament Australia defeat
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Another contentious decision was the 'deliberate' knock-on that resulted in a penalty (from which Drew Mitchell scored) and a yellow card against Sean Maitland. On this occasion the TMO took the initiative and intervened when Joubert appeared happy to award nothing more than a scrum. Maitland went for it with one hand but was obviously genuinely trying to intercept rather than knocking the ball down.

The one handed "knock-down" used to be the criterion for a deliberate knock-on and still is as far as Owens is concerned but the TMO and Joubert even discussed the possibility of a penalty try and it was the TMO who appeared to be driving the decision making.

I flagged-up my concern that we are moving towards a situation where the real referee is the man in the car park in an office next to the television scanner in a previous column and it is now crystal clear that referees have the same fear. Owens, who is almost certain to be refereeing the final, has moved swiftly to create his own protocol. If a TMO intervenes he will ask to see the incident again on the big screen and will then take full responsibility himself. He is happy to use the TMO as an extra pair of eyes but does not seek or want his advice on the final decision.

It is too late to change anything in this World Cup but there clearly has to be a serious reappraisal of the role of the TMO going forward. Not all (but a huge majority) have never refereed at international level and it shows. The idea that they can stop a movement in full flow - a situation we have had several times in this tournament - is ludicrous.

It is equally crazy that referees have to use their wits and work outside the strict letter of the law if they have doubts about making a game changing decision. It is a very simple change to allow referees to refer any incident that involves or might involve any sort of score. Why is a try deemed more important than a penalty?

Poor old Craig Joubert - his biggest crime was not thinking quickly enough but he should never have been put in that position. I get the feeling referees will be a little more militant in future, demanding a greater say in the way laws are formulated and put into action, so there could be a plus side.

By the way, the evening achieved its original aim in spades with well over £20,000 being raised for the charity.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
John Taylor is a former Wales international who toured with the British & Irish Lions in 1968 and 1971. Since retiring he has worked in the media and has covered the last eight Lions tours as a commentator or journalist

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