Owain Jones takes a look at eight of the biggest controversies to take place at the Rugby World Cup.

9 Biggest Rugby World Cup Controversies

The Rugby World Cup has seen some of the greatest moments in rugby history take place, but it has never been immune to controversial moments either. From dodgy refereeing performances to dirty tactics, Owain Jones discusses some of the biggest controversial moments to take place during the tournament below.

Craig Joubert’s iffy penalty decision enrages Scots (2015)

Scotland were on the cusp of a first semi-final appearance since 1991 when South African referee Craig Joubert blew his whistle for a penalty against prop Jon Welch for accidental offside, even though video replays showed the ball had been knocked backwards by Australian Nick Phipps. The much-maligned decision gave Bernard Foley a final reprieve to steal the game from under the Scots noses and he slotted the penalty to win the game 35-34. The Scots were incandescent with legend Gavin Hastings calling it a ‘disgrace’ and Joubert didn’t help his cause by scarpering on the final whistle. He was duly overlooked for duty in the semi-finals and World Rugby later admitted that it had been an egregious mistake.

Food poisoning on the eve of the Rugby World Cup Final (1995)

Mystery still abounds over a waitress called ‘Suzie’ who was said by All Blacks coach Laurie Mains to have served contaminated chicken which saw half the squad going down with a stomach bug on the eve of the final – with only a small number avoiding the lurgy. Of course, this was never proven – Colin Meads has since said it could have been milk that had gone off – but many in South Africa think it’s a case of sour grapes from the beaten finalists. Springboks wing James Small – never one to mince his words – recently called it “the biggest load of sh*t I heard in my life”. Succinct.

Wayne’s World (2007)

Wayne Barnes is widely considered as being one of the finest referees in the game but in 2007 he came under fire from the entire Kiwi nation for missing a forward pass from Freddie Michalak that led to the match-winning Yannick Jauzion try. In the unedifying aftermath both captain Richie McCaw and coach Sir Graham Henry weighed in with criticism of his performance, while the sin-binning of Luke McAlister was also heavily criticised. In later interviews, Barnes admitted the opprobrium had affected him deeply.

Daniel Dubroca loses his head (1991)

The French are known to be a passionate bunch but emotions can often spill over in the heat of battle. When England beat France 19-10 in the 1991 quarter-final in Paris, their assistant coach Dubroca went loco and grabbed New Zealand referee Dave Bishop by the throat, calling him a cheat. Prop Pascal Ondart went further and allegedly threw a punch at Bishop. Dubroca was also accused of spitting and in the aftermath and subsequently resigned from his position. Bishop said that Dubroca, who had captained France during the infamous Battle of Nantes against the All Blacks in 1986, had only ‘shaken me warmly by the throat’. A very understanding chap all round.

Kamp Staaldraad (2003)

South Africa‘s pre-World Cup preparations were certainly unique when it came to motivating players. Coach Rudolph Straeuli thought a trip out to a military facility known as Kamp Staaldraad (literally Camp Barbed Wire) would give his Bokke squad a chance to bond when put under some duress. Naturally then, players were stripped naked and crammed into foxholes and hosed down with cold water, while being forced to listen to the Haka and the God Save Our Queen on a loudspeaker. Pumping-up rugby balls in freezing water in the middle of the night was another indignity. It got worse though. Those who wanted to throw in the white flag were told to return at gunpoint, crawling naked across gravel and sleeping in the bush and being told to kill chickens were also part of the ‘team-bonding’. The Springboks were thumped in the quarter-finals by New Zealand and Straeuli resigned soon after.

Dwarf tossing in Queenstown (2011)

The portents weren’t good for England in New Zealand. A frosty relationship between the media and coach Martin Johnson meant a siege mentality set-in. This is all tickety-boo if you’re winning but England never got into their groove limply crashing out in the quarter-finals to France. In the pool stages, relations had plummeted further when a few members of the squad, including Dylan Hartley and Chris Ashton, were caught indulging in dwarf tossing in Queenstown’s Altitude bar. Matters took a further dip when captain Mike Tindall, husband of Zara Phillips (15th in line to the throne) was caught on closed-circuit TV having a cosy chat with another blonde. A tabloid feeding-frenzy ensued. To cap off a miserable tour of shame, centre Manu Tuilagi plumbed new depths – literally – by jumping off an Auckland ferry in his pants. He blamed immaturity.

Name Change: Epi Taione changed his name to Paddy Power by deed poll in 2007 (Getty Images)

Jolly Green Giants (2007)

Bookmaker Paddy Power has always been known for its irreverent, edgy advertising and it didn’t disappoint at the 2007 Rugby World Cup. They boosted the cash-strapped coffers of the Tongan rugby team by asking them to dye their hair green before their high-profile pool match against England in Paris. The coup de grace was managing to coerce gargantuan centre Epi Taione into changing his name by deed poll to Paddy Power. World Rugby were less than impressed at the free advertising and demanded Tonga wash out the green barnets before the game before fining Taione. In response the bookmaker shipped out hundreds of green wigs to the Tongan fans. There was no luck of the Irish as Tonga went down 36-20.

In the eye of the storm (1999)

They managed to ‘Bring Back Bill’, otherwise known as the Webb Ellis Cup, but the Wallabies suffered for their success. During the game, the French indulged in some underhand tactics by gouging Australian players, namely Michael Foley, prop Richard Harry and scrum-half George Gregan. Wallabies captain John Eales, a paragon of virtue in any sport, was so incensed he threatened to referee Andre Watson that he would haul his side off the pitch if the French didn’t start playing fair. Eales, himself, finished the game with a bloodshot eye as the Wallabies emerged 35-12 winners, while the chastened Les Bleus slunk off in ignominy.

Super Typhoon Hagibis (2019)

Typhoon Hagibis resulted in the cancellation of some important group stage matches at the 2019 tournament which left a sour taste in the mouths of countries like Scotland and Italy who could still have qualified but weren’t given the chance. Check out the full story on the event here.

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