In Depth

Rugby referee Joubert got Scotland penalty call wrong

But does the Frenchman deserve all the abuse he is getting for handing the game to Australia in the last minute?

By Gavin Mortimer

Not that it will do much to lift Scottish spirits but World Rugby has admitted referee Craig Joubert was wrong to award Australia what has become the most controversial penalty in World Cup history in the last minute of their thrilling quarter-final clash on Sunday.

As every Scot will tell you until their dying day, Bernard Foley stepped up to coolly kick the penalty, with 40 seconds left on the clock, to give Australia a 35-34 victory and set up a semi-final encounter with Argentina.

Joubert had penalised Scotland for being offside in the wake of a botched line-out, and as criticism of the South Africa whistle-blower continued throughout Monday, World Rugby, the game's governing body, released a statement acknowledging his gaffe.

"The selection committee confirms that Joubert applied World Rugby Law 11.7 penalising Scotland's Jon Welsh, who had played the ball following a knock-on by a team-mate, resulting in an offside. On review of all available angles, it is clear that after the knock-on, the ball was touched by Australia's Nick Phipps and Law 11.3(c) states that a player can be put on-side by an opponent who intentionally plays the ball.

"It is important to clarify that, under the protocols, the referee could not refer to the television match official in this case and therefore had to rely on what he saw in real time. In this case Law 11.3(c) should have been applied, putting Welsh onside. The appropriate decision, therefore, should have been a scrum to Australia for the original knock-on."

The second paragraph is important because much of the vitriol levelled at Joubert, who ran off the pitch the moment he blew the final whistle at Twickenham, centred on his failure to refer the incident to the television match official. But as the World Rugby statement clarifies, that option was not within his remit for this particular offence.

Despite admitting one of their referees made a mistake that effectively cost Scotland a place in the semi-final, World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper defended Joubert on Monday evening: "There are highly paid professional rugby players out there making mistakes and dropping balls but of course they don't get as vilified as match officials do," said Gosper. "It's a very, very tough job and I don't think there's a tougher job... Joubert's one of our finest referees, is a good man. Mistakes can happen. There's a human element still."

In the immediate aftermath of the controversial quarter-final, fans and pundits tore into Joubert with former Scotland captain and Radio5Live analyser Gavin Hastings raging: "If I see that man again I'm going to tell him how disgusted I am. He has let the game of rugby down. He should be sent home tomorrow." Similar views were expressed by ex-England scrum-half and TV pundit Matt Dawson, who labelled Joubert "a disgrace".

151019-rugby-2.jpg

Gabriel Bouys /AFP/Getty Images

The tone of the criticism provoked a backlash on Monday with one of Dawson's World Cup-winning teammates, Lawrence Dallaglio, commenting: "I am not terribly impressed with some of the comments aimed towards Craig Joubert. By rugby players, mostly former. You don't need to say that. He knows he has made a mistake, we know he has made a mistake and it has cost Scotland a place in the semi-final."

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