IRB back refs over Wales penalty
FOUR years ago, the English referee Wayne Barnes had the entire All Black nation on his back after New Zealand's quarter-final defeat at the hands of France. A forward pass was missed, a try was scored, a population spoke with one voice in telling the West Countryman what they thought of him. When Barnes next sets foot in Wales, often described as the closest to the current World Cup hosts in terms of rugby passion and obsession, he can expect a similar volley of parentage-questioning abuse.
The International Rugby Board yesterday clarified the protocols covering the use of television replays as the controversy continued over James Hook's "missed" penalty during the compelling Wales-South Africa contest in Wellington. Wales were denied what most people now believe were three legitimate points, and went on to lose the game by one. Should Barnes have consulted the television match official? According to the IRB, he would have been perfectly entitled to do so.
"During the match in question," said a spokesman for the governing body, which has fielded thousands of calls from people asking why there was no referral "upstairs", as the jargon has it, "the match officials felt at the time there was no need to consult the TMO... as they were confident the kick had not been successful."
In other words, Barnes and his assistants decided that the ball had drifted outside the post and saw no reason to doubt their own eyesight. Unfortunately for them, recordings showed that while it was a very close shave, the ball was significantly more in than out.
While the Wales camp have been commendably dignified in refusing to make a song and dance about the issue in public, there is no doubt that it rankles with them, especially as Frans Steyn, the Springbok full-back, was reported to have said that the kick was good.
Not that there were any similar sentiments from the South Africa coach, Peter de Villiers. "I looked at the replay but I can't say anything," he remarked - an unusual approach from a man who usually says an awful lot. "Those guys who make the decisions are paid big bucks to make the right ones and seldom get it wrong."
As a result of Sunday's defeat, Wales' road to knockout stage qualification is long and hazardous, beginning with a game against the dangerous Samoans in Hamilton on Sunday. Fortunately, two of Wales' Test Lions, the prop Gethin Jenkins and the outside-half Stephen Jones, are expected to be fit for consideration after recovering from the calf injuries that threatened their participation in this tournament.
"Both Stephen and Gethin will be fully integrated into the training programme this week and if they come through the periods of high-intensity work, we would expect to make both of them available to the selectors," said Prav Mathema, the team's medical performance director. As things stand, only Ryan Jones remains on the casualty list.