Referee resigns over 12-week ban for Tweet
April 19, 2013
Hugh Watkins has worked with Worcester in the past as a referee consultant © Getty Images
Former referee Hugh Watkins was left shocked and disappointed after he was handed a 12-week suspension by the Welsh Rugby Union for comments he made on Twitter.
Watkins, who has been officiating for 20 years, handed in his resignation prior to the WRU hearing and was informed on Thursday that as a result of his Tweet, he is banned from officiating until September 1, 2013. The Tweet related to the Hong Kong Sevens final between Wales and Fiji and a tackle in the first half.
Watkins queried a decision by the referee not to award a red card for what looked to be a serious tip tackle - Ilai Tinai received a yellow at the time for the hit on Lee Williams. Watkins Tweeted: "Sorry that's a shocker. Had to be red no other option. We need referees to be consistent in this".
As a result of this Watkins, who ran the line during the 2007 World Cup and in two Heineken Cup finals, has now prematurely called time on officiating and will focus on his career as an office manager. But despite having enjoyed a long career refereeing at the top level, the way it has come to an end has left a bitter taste.
"I was watching the Sevens in Hong Kong and I made a comment on Twitter regarding one of the decisions - I said that was a shocker, it should have been a red. We referees need to be more consistent," Watkins told ESPN. "Unfortunately Paddy O'Brien the IRB Sevens manager took a dislike to that.
"Hence I then had an email from the Welsh Rugby Union admin department outlining that a code of conduct had been brought against me and I was to attend a hearing to explain my comments. So basically I resigned on receipt of that letter because I didn't want to attend the hearing. I felt it was unnecessary. Subsequently I had a letter on Thursday outlining that I had received a 12-week ban.
"I was very disappointed with how it has been handled. For someone who has given 20-years service for the WRU and I feel, as a manager myself, a little word or telephone call was warranted - just to say "I think the comments were inappropriate". But there was nothing to do with that, it was just a straightforward letter."
And following the media attention Alain Rolland received for showing Sam Warburton a red card for a tip-tackle during the 2011 World Cup, Watkins had hoped the incident would have set a precedent for other offences such as Tinai's, but this did not seem to be the case in the Sevens.
Watkins will not appeal the decision and is upset at how the incident has brought an end to his career. He had hoped to take on a Television Match Official role, but instead he will just walk away and let the matter be.
He concluded: "It's sad but I walk away having given a lot of service, in terms of 20 years officiating, but I'll just put the matter to rest now."
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.