Even by Ireland's standards of quarter-final let-downs, Sunday was a bad one. Only twice before had Ireland conceded 43 points in a Rugby World Cup match. First in 1995 by the ill-fated Jonah Lomu All Blacks, then a France side in 2003 who went ahead 37-0 before slipping off for a casual cigarette, permitting Ireland to chalk up some pity points.
Going down 17-0 inside 13 minutes put Sunday in that sort of inglorious company, injuries and spirited comeback be damned.
Doff your cap and wish them well, those Pumas. They played with ferocity, skill, and daring.
Perhaps it's better to be soundly beaten than by a marginal call, such as that endured by Scotland in their one-point loss to Australia, courtesy of a controversial late penalty goal.
has since been judged by his masters to have been wrong, publicly and after abundant replays, but that penalty call was indeed marginal. These things happen in sport. There were two true failures: Scotland messing up their final lineout and Joubert running straight off the field at the whistle. World Rugby did not need to issue a statement “clarifying” that marginal call; rugby needed the referee to have stayed on the park.
This is the statement we should have had: “I should not have run from the field. I visited the Scotland manager and captain last night to apologise to them in person. I explained to them that I called the game as I saw it. I understand their frustration now that we’ve all seen replays but I called what I saw. It’s all I can do. It’s all anyone can do. But I should have stayed to shake hands. That wasn’t good enough, and I apologise.”
The words of a man being both human and accountable, not a note from the administrators clarifying aspects of the lawbook. Like the painfully lawyered-up disciplinary process World Rugby seems to have chosen sterility over empathy.
Had he stayed, it would have been natural for a few heated Scots to have had a go. A close call at a crucial time, and a well-struck penalty goal, led to them missing out on becoming only the second group of Scotsmen to have won a World Cup quarter-final. But Joubert should have stayed to take the heat, then offer a handshake.
Fifteen Scots played in that 1991 semi-final match, losing 6-9 to England in Edinburgh. Before June 2nd, 2010, just 19 men in Major League Baseball history had thrown a perfect game. Nineteen pitchers who pitched a complete game while not letting a single opposing batter reach first base. It needs a pitcher to be the best they can be while having a whole lot of luck – 27 hitters up, 27 down. It’s a very special thing.
On June 2nd 2010 at Detroit's Comerica Park, Tigers hurler Armando Galarraga sat down the first 26 visiting Cleveland hitters. The 27th would hit a routine ground ball to right. The ball was fielded and thrown to the first base bag to cheers, that quickly turned to boos. First base umpire Jim Joyce, arms stretched wide, had ruled the hitter safe.
It was immediately apparent that Joyce had blown the call. He spoke with reporters later.
“I just missed the damn call”, said an emotional Joyce. The experienced official was asked whether he had admitted the error to the Detroit manager and players on the field after the game. Joyce said he had allowed them have their say but he’d really thought he’d got it right. “I thought he’d beat the play.” said Joyce. It wasn’t until he eventually got to the locker room that the veteran umpire saw the replay, and his mistake.
Joyce’s error was far more egregious than that of Joubert. Not for him a greasy pinball bouncing between desperate, flailing men, just a straightforward call at first base that, for some reason, he missed. And he knew the importance of it.
“This isn’t ‘a’ call. This is a history call” said Joyce. “And I kicked the shit out of it. There’s nobody that feels worse than I do. I take pride in this job and I kicked the shit out of that. I took a perfect game away from that kid over there who worked his ass off all night.”
Baseball is an everyday sport. On June 3rd Joyce was scheduled to call balls and strikes as the home plate umpire. He arrived at the plate for the two teams to exchange lineup cards. Galarraga stood there, representing Detroit.
Joyce, now in tears, shook hands with the man whom he had denied one of the American sport’s most prized achievements. The two men slapped each other on the shoulder.