Refereeing standards at the World Cup are again under the microscope only a few hours after World Rugby admitted on Tuesday that the inconsistencies of their match officials across the opening weekend of the tournament were unacceptable.
In a brief 136-word statement, the governing body stated: “The match officials team recognise that performances over the opening weekend of Rugby World Cup 2019 were not consistently of the standards set by World Rugby and themselves, but World Rugby is confident of the highest standards of officiating moving forward.”
However, this confidence for the highest standards of officiating to materialise were immediately brought into question in the Russia-Samoa match.
French referee Romain Poite called on his TMO Graham Hughes to help adjudicate on two instances of Samoan high tackle foul play just two minutes and 14 seconds apart in the first half in Kumagaya.
Both tackles on Russian skipper Vasily Artemyev resulted in yellow cards for Samoa’s Rey Lee-Lo and Motu Matu’u when it appeared on first viewing that both incidents merited red cards.
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With the clock stopped on 27:28, Poite first considered Lee-Lo’s shoulder connection to the head collision with Artemyev.
POITE: “Is it foul play? Yes. It is a high tackle? Yes, it is. Is there a direct contact with the head? There is a direct contact on the head which would mean it is a red card against Blue player.”
HUGHES: “However, Red is dipping.”
POITE: “OK. Show me again then.”
The officials review the footage again before Poite reaches a definitive conclusion.
POITE: “I agree. You can have a mitigating factor which is the ball carrier just dipping down a little bit and there is no real big force.”
World Rugby have admitted its officials weren't good enough on opening weekend in Japanhttps://t.co/e3b5AQSUhA
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 24, 2019
The referee then talks to Lee-Lo before brandishing the yellow card.
POITE: “There is contact on the head with the shoulder but the ball carrier is falling down a little bit. This is the mitigating factor. It is just a yellow card against you.”
Just 134 seconds later, though, with the clock now stopped on 29:42, Poite had to again consult with Hughes after Matu’u clattered into Artemyev’s head with his shoulder.
POITE: “Have we foul play?”
POITE: “Have we a high tackle?”
POITE: “Have we contact direct on the head? Yes, but again 15 Red is falling down. Then it is a yellow card against 2 Blue.”
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The referee then called over Matu’u and Samoan skipper Chris Vui to explain his decision and show the yellow card.
POITE: “It is exactly the same one. It is high, there is contact on the head but the mitigating factor is 15 is falling down. Please have a word about your players. They must be better with the tackle. It is another yellow card.”
Poite’s yellow cards are bound to come under scrutiny after World Rugby admitted there was a collective shortfall in refereeing standards across the opening weekend, resulting in much criticism being heaped on the officials.
“Elite match officials are required to make decisions in complex, high-pressure situations and there have been initial challenges with the use of technology and team communication, which have impacted decision-making. These are already being addressed by the team of 23 match officials to enhance consistency,” said World Rugby in its Tuesday statement.
What a game – Very physical battle with some very big hits going in, gutted for the players @russiarugby , now time to medically assess and help them with a quick recovery , so they are ready for next game in 9 days with @IrishRugby in Kobe https://t.co/n3OYgdznUZ
— Chris Jenkins (@CJPhysio) September 24, 2019
“Given this proactive approach, a strong team ethic and a superb support structure, World Rugby has every confidence in the team to ensure that Rugby World Cup 2019 delivers the highest levels of accurate, clear and consistent decision-making.”
Russia went on to lose 34-9 and there would have been frustration that Lee-Lo returned from the sin-bin instead of being red-carded to get among the tries.
Samoan boss Steve Jackson said: “Tackle technique, we will learn from this. We should have learned from the past weekend with some of the people that have been cited. We have just got to be better in that area.”
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