Advice pours in for Joubert after contentious World Cup call

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LONDON (AP) Craig Joubert will not be a referee in the Rugby World Cup semifinals. Whether he takes charge of another international game is anyone’s guess.

Outraged critics are insisting the quarterfinal between Australia and Scotland should be his last as a top referee after a contentious penalty for offside led to Wallabies flyhalf Bernard Foley kicking a last-minute goal for a 35-34 win last Sunday. For the four minutes until then, Scotland had a two-point lead and threatened a massive upset.

The 37-year-old Joubert left the field quickly after the match, sparking torrents of more criticism, and has not commented publicly since.

“I have been in contact with him, he is not happy, and is taking a bit of strain but is coping well,” Jonathan Kaplan, who was a referee in a record 68 tests, was quoted as saying in the Evening Standard newspaper. “I am letting him be for a couple of days, and I know what it is like to feel like you have let people down.”

Kaplan still rated his fellow South African as “definitely in the top four referees in the world.”

The international rugby federation took the unusual step of confirming Joubert’s last decision was inaccurate, and should have resulted in a scrum for Australia instead of a penalty, but confirmed he made his call in real time without the benefit of a replay.

In the frenzy following a late lineout, Joubert penalized Scotland prop Jon Welsh for intentionally playing the ball in an offside position after it rebounded forward off teammate Josh Strauss. He didn’t see the ball come into contact with Australian scrumhalf Nick Phipps, which would have changed the ruling.

To prevent any repeats, Kaplan has suggested each team should be given a captain’s challenge to review any decision in a match.

Without access to replays, though, other referees said Joubert should have erred on the side of caution if he wasn’t 100 percent sure.

Graham Henry, who coached the All Blacks to the World Cup title in 2011 with an 8-7 win in the final that Joubert refereed, agreed with the cautious approach.

“Whatever the rulebook rights and wrongs of that final penalty, it surely needs to reflect the severity of the offense,” Henry wrote in The Guardian newspaper. “On such fine margins are matches decided and reputations made.”

Australia coach Michael Cheika has repeatedly defended Joubert since the match ended in a cacophony of booing at Twickenham.

“It is a bit surprising because no other decision in the tournament has been reviewed,” Cheika said of the World Rugby clarification. “I’ve never seen that before. I am not sure why that decision had to be publicly reviewed and put out there. I really hope his fellow referees stand by him.

“Unfortunately in this instance, people have taken the game off the field and gotten quite personal about it.”

Of the four referees from the quarterfinals, Joubert and Nigel Owens of Wales missed out on semifinals.

Jerome Garces of France will handle New Zealand vs. South Africa, and Wayne Barnes of England will take charge of Australia vs. Argentina.

Being from South Africa, and having four southern hemisphere teams still in contention, Joubert may not have been allocated a semifinal anyway. Owens is a candidate for the final.

Much of the criticism of Joubert came because of his hasty exit without the customary handshakes with players.

“I have always found him to be very courteous to all those around him, both on and off the field,” Kaplan said. “Perhaps he felt he didn’t want to get involved in further controversy with disgruntled players and coaches?”

Kaplan said the personal attacks have been extreme, while there’d been a lack of analysis on Scotland’s decisions leading up to the penalty.

“I don’t accept the vitriolic comments” against Joubert, Kaplan said. “While not detracting from the controversy and its aftermath, I’ve yet to see much said about Scotland butchering the throw at the lineout. They had a chance to win possession, maul it, and win the game. They didn’t.

“I know it doesn’t excuse a potential error by the officials, but let’s try and be even handed if we are going to criticize.”