The vilification of Craig Joubert during RWC 2015 was unnecessary, argues RW reader Philip Eades

The ongoing and emotive analysis of that decision by Craig Joubert in the Australia-Scotland quarter-final cast a dark shadow over a wonderful World Cup.

The public execution of Joubert by World Rugby, where they confirmed he was wrong to award a late penalty to Australia, merely served to undermine a core tenet of the game – that the referee is the sole judge of fact. They did acknowledge there was nothing he could have done after his initial call – which makes you wonder what they gained by going public.

He made a decision in real time, in a split-second, from one angle of view. Show me a referee who has never made a mistake. It happens and we usually move on. The problem with this decision is that within seconds we had slow-motion replays from multiple angles allowing a forensic dissection of events by the 80,000 ‘experts’ in the stands, resulting in the crowd baying for the decision to be referred to the TMO, something the laws don’t allow.

The two men who could legitimately offer additional information, the assistant referees, did not intervene. Therefore, had Joubert changed his mind it would have been on the basis of inadmissible evidence.


TV time: George Clancy and his assistant view a big screen as they consult the TMO. Photo: Getty Images

There is now much discussion about allowing more decisions to be referred to the TMO, which will prove complex and will further undermine the authority of match officials.

Referees were criticised during the tournament for going to the TMO too often anyway. If we let referees use ‘common sense’ in deciding when to refer, how do we define common sense? And there is no doubt referees would come under increasing pressure from players to ‘go upstairs’.

There is an alternative and simpler solution. Only allow replays during game time of decisions that can be referred to the TMO. If the TMO can’t be involved, don’t run multiple reruns on the large screens in the stadium because this serves no purpose.

All they do is create confusion and potentially inflame the situation, as happened in the Scotland match. If evidence is inadmissible, don’t show it. Simples!

This article appeared in the December 2015 edition of Rugby World. For the latest subscription offers, click here.

  • John ‘Max’ Maxwell

    I sat with a TMO (at a lunch) recently and he saw his role as providing evidence, not ‘making decisions’. And this requires good refs to make decisions. Barnes & Owens often watch one clip and say “ok, i’ve seen enough, i’ve made my decision.” If the TMO disagrees, he can apparently offer ‘another angle’. But i agree, we must stop massaging the egos of these commentators who seem to think they’re the final judge and use the big screen to backup their opinions. Only the ref is 1) unbiased and 2) on the ground. Nobody is better placed to make the final decision … Based on all evidence.

    What i DO wish we could see is linesmen actually calling out offside, touch and forward passes – rather than their new role of H&S representative!! And grassing up ‘handbags’ for the TMO to replay 20 times whilst we all get bored!!

  • James Cowan

    The Joubert incident was not just about the wrong decision. It was his sprinting off the pitch like a coward. It was – as you say – the fact the TMO was used to the point of boredom throughout the RWC but he didn’t use it for the biggest decision of the tournament to that point, regardless of laws what’s the point in a TMO if you get the biggest decision of the game wrong but not the most important? It was the fact he saw on the big screen he made the wrong decision and didn’t reverse the call – like whoever did when Matawalu knocked on against England. It was also it was easier for the Scots to blame Joubert than another painful failure. But let’s not pretend that everyone else wouldn’t behave the same if their team got denied a semi final by that decision.

    Also your article contradicts itself. If the core tenant of the game is the referee makes the decision but the TMO makes the decisions for the ref a lot of time. Want an example? The Maitland yellow in that game. Never a yellow. Joubert let it go but Veltsman didn’t deeming it a yellow card.

    Respect is earned. Joubert didn’t earn any when he sprinted off the pitch. Incredibly undignified of him.