Craig Joubert is the name on every rugby supporters lips today as the South African has being ridiculed to high heaven for his controversial penalty award to Australia to knock out brave Scotland yesterday in an epic RWC quarter final. It was a bitter sweet end to a marvelous contest which ebbed and flowed throughout but it was the phrase of play immediately after Scotland had decided to hit the three lineout pod which had the internet seething. The decision was poor but in fairness when I saw the incident first, I thought the ball had hit a Scottish hand before Jon Welsh caught the ball. It was only when the slow motion replays were shown that the truth emerged. It was a poor decision but Joubert was taken to the cleaners by his ineffective line judge Glenn Jackson. Jackson flat out refused to make any decisions yesterday evident in his blase response to when Drew Mitchell barged into Stuart Hogg in the last five minutes, surely a penalty but the New Zealand could not be bothered to allow Joubert to view the incident to the TMO. The incident has sparked further debate on the role of the TMO. The TMO needs to have greater powers to adjudicate on all aspects of play. The offside decisions were off limits but surely after this debacle, the TMO has to get involved in these decisions as the line judges appear incapable of assisting their colleague in the middle. I feel for Joubert. Everyone makes mistakes but when he made a horrific one, the support structures to come to his aid failed him and the game’s integrity. Joubert’s reputation has taken a hit. His line judges go on as if nothing happened. Glen Jackson’s role in the incident must not be forgotten, utterly clueless to Joubert. Joubert needs to come out and issue a statement on the incident, not just for clarification but also to potentially save his international refereeing career. Joubert’s conduct at the final whistle was horrendous and left a sour taste to everyone who watched the game. A PR disaster for the tournament has being created and is potentially the memory of the tournament now. Shocking nightmare scenario for the organizer. Where are the rugby values and integrity? They were absent yesterday at Twickenham.
To compound the Twickenham controversy came the statement tonight from World Rugby effectively throwing Craig Joubert to the wolves. The statement effectively stated that the referee screwed up royally so what happens now? Does Scotland have rights to launch an appeal on the result? Are Scotland due compensation for the officiating error? What is the position of World Rugby to the result? It creates an incredibly messy situation. Does every refereeing decision during this tournament needs to be reviewed? The system in which referees are operating under is insufficient and one must wonder what Jerome Garces and Wayne Barnes are thinking ahead of their RWC semi-final assignments this weekend? What happens if a penalty decision similar to what Joubert initially saw is repeated? Does the TMO need to get involve or will the assistant referee crew actually do their job and provide their feedback in a professional manner to their colleague in the middle. It is a mess, quite frankly it is an embarrassment to the game for World Rugby to come with a statement such as this. It leaves the organization open to ridicule and litigation. This controversy has suddenly taken a turn for the worse.
While everyone is commentating on shocking officiating and I have not even started on Argentine prop Herrera for his tackle in the ruck against Ireland, New Zealand stole the show on the pitch this weekend. What a performance to put France to the sword. Yes, France gave up the ghost after thirty minutes but it was as clinical a performance at this stage of the competition for many a year. Dan Carter is peaking at the right time for New Zealand. His penalty kicking and kicking out of hand was exhibition stuff in stark contrast to Freddy Michalak who capped off a miserable tournament with a blocked kick which led to the opening try early doors. Carter oozed class throughout and his three quarters were spoiled with the quality of distribution from their ten. Ma Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Savea were receiving ball at such pace and precision that France could not cope and massive gain line yards were effortlessly made. New Zealand’s pack were competent but one imagines that the South Africans will pose more problems than France in the set piece. Woodcock’s loss is massive and I suspect the semi-final will be a cliff hanger. New Zealand were exceptional last weekend, motivated to avenge the defeat to France in Cardiff eight years ago and it was mission accomplished. I am eagerly looking forward to see how they try to dismantle the teak South African outfit.
Difficult morning in Ireland after a miserable exit from the tournament. Schmidt hitting the party line that inexperience cost the team but his system was dismantled. Argentina exposed flaws in the outside defense of Ireland and perhaps throws a debate on team selection. Dave Kearney was wholly exposed on the wing defensively and that first Argentine try will be the stuff of nightmares. Keith Earls at thirteen was solid until yesterday but the caliber of opponent stepped up to such a level that the Limerick man was unable to create openings. The pack were on the back foot throughout and the passive defensive system deployed by Les Kiss gave Argentina easy gain line yards. It all pointed to an emphatic loss and so it proved. Our squad depth was not as good as the media and management let on. Luxury squad selections such as Furlong when the need for extra back row and back line options is galling. Ireland choked like four years ago choked; injuries or no injuries. Ireland’s focus was on France and not on the knockout stage, akin to four years previous with Australia and not Wales. The Southern Hemisphere papers could not contain their laughter at the abysmal performance. If Joe Schmidt had any intention of taking on the Lions New Zealand tour, he can forget about it now. The system was exposed as one dimensional, physical grunt with little in the way of creativity or ball playing ability. On reflection, Ireland scored the majority of their tries when teams were down to fourteen men. Little flair in the Ireland team was seen during this tournament (glimpse or two against Canada and Romania) but the big games failed to ignite the back line fully. Henshaw must be nurtured to become more a skills player than physical gym battering ram, the player has serious potential in the international scene. Interesting times lie ahead for Ireland. Game plan evolution is required and the IRFU have to cultivate a culture where the basic skills and not physicality is awarded particularly at underage and schools game to develop the next generation of players. It is a sobering exit from the tournament and the issues exposed will take years to fix.