Rugby World Cup match officials admit they must do better

Officials issue a statement per World Rugby after reviewing opening round of matches

Match officials at the Rugby World Cup have shown themselves a yellow card after reviewing the opening round of matches.

Referees, touch judges and television match officials met with Alain Rolland, World Rugby's high performance manager for match officials, and agreed to go public with an admission that they should have done better.

In a statement released by World Rugby on Tuesday, they admitted that directives laid down before the tournament, especially those concerning high and reckless tackling and policing the offside line, had not been followed rigorously enough.

The mea culpa followed an opening round which saw Australia's Reece Hodge avoid a red card for a reckless challenge that left the Fiji flanker Peceli Yato concussed and France's replacement number eight Louis Picamoles seize a vital interception towards the end of the narrow victory over Argentina despite almost being in the Pumas' backline.


World Rugby has recent form in publicly carpeting officials. Last year, it issued a statement that the television match official (TMO) Glenn Newman was wrong to rule that Gareth Anscombe had not grounded the ball against England at Twickenham, prompting Eddie Jones to question whether it was wise to so undermine an official, and in the 2015 World Cup it said the referee Craig Joubert should not have awarded Australia a late match-winning penalty against Scotland in the quarter-final.

But Tuesday’s statement was issued with the agreement of Rolland and his officials. It ran: “Following the usual review of matches, the match officials team recognise that performances over the opening weekend 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.

“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.

"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."

Subsequently cited

It was a glitch with the replay system for the TMO that reprieved Hodge. The camera angle that was most damning against him was not made available in time, the reason he was subsequently cited to appear before a disciplinary panel on Wednesday.

World Rugby is confident those problems have been sorted out, but the speed of games, even those involving tier two nations, has been such that officials have been struggling to keep up.

George North was taken out in the air by the replacement secondrow Shalva Sutiashvili during Wales’s victory over Georgia on Monday, but the incident was not reviewed even though a red flag should have been raised because the forward made no attempt to compete for the ball in the air.

The game that caused most concern was France’s victory over Argentina. The Pumas’ head coach Mario Ledesma raged afterwards that key non-decisions had cost his side the game while Les Bleus captain Guilhem Guirado complained that the referee, Angus Gardner, did not apply the early engagement rule at the scrum.

The result of the statement is not so much that more cards will be likely but that defenders are less likely to get away with encroaching. Either way, the whistle will sound more, at least for a while.