Australia head coach Michael Cheika has issued a strong condemnation of World Rugby’s treatment of referee Craig Joubert.
The sport’s global governing body has admitted that Joubert blundered by awarding the Wallabies the last-gasp penalty that Bernard Foley kicked to seize a 35-34 victory at Twickenham on Sunday, robbing Scotland of a place in the World Cup semi-finals.`
Pointing the finger of blame at Joubert is an unusual but not unprecedented step by World Rugby and Cheika – speaking on the subject for a third successive day – believes the official has been let down.
“I genuinely feel for Craig Joubert. It’s so unfair. No other referee has had this stuff put out there like that and he’s a very good referee,” Cheika said.
“I would have liked my mates to back me up a little more on the odd occasion, if you know what I mean. I feel for him. We talk about having the right principles in the game and all of that...
“Genuinely I have 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 because – well, the fact I’m not allowed to say much about it says it all.”
Cheika also rounded on the pundits who have been savage in their criticism of Joubert as the Scottish nation continue to recoil from the injustice of having their greatest World Cup victory snatched away by a refereeing mistake.
Former Scotland full-back Gavin Hastings viewed Joubert’s action in dashing off as “despicable”, ex-captain Andy Nicol branded the South African a “coward” and retired England scrum-half Matt Dawson tweeted “Craig Joubert you are a disgrace and should never referee again!!”
“I can’t make it sound like I’m looking after Joubert here because it’s not like I’ve come from a background of pristine relationships with officialdom,” said Cheika, aware of the irony of him defending a referee.
“But one thing I will say is that once the game is done and dusted, I’m as good as gold with anyone. When the game’s on and in the white lines, everyone goes hard.
“And afterwards, as passionate as everyone is on the field, off the field there’s no drama because it’s a game.
“Unfortunately in this instance, people have taken the game off the field and gotten quite personal about it.
“Supposedly, these are big people in the game who are earning their living through commentary and stuff like that.”
World Rugby said in a statement that, having reviewed the incident, the “appropriate decision was a scrum to Australia for the original knock-on” and not a penalty.
Scotland were outstanding as they fought back to establish a 34-32 lead in one of the World Cup’s greatest knockout matches, only to be robbed of a famous victory by Joubert’s pivotal late call that helped the Wallabies creep ahead with 43 seconds remaining.
Cheika fears the sport is treading a dangerous path by deciding to publish the routine review into a referee’s performance in response to the outcry over a mistake.
“It is a bit surprising because no other decision in the tournament has been reviewed,” Cheika said.
“I felt we should have had a couple of scrum penalties before. I don’t know if they are reviewing those or if there is a document coming out from World Rugby on them. If there is then we’ll make a list.
“I don’t know if Samoa are making a list about the little knock-on before Scotland scored at the end, or how many more we are going to send in.
“If this is what’s going to happen then every team will be making a list as long as their arm. And with reason to.
“It’s not the way it has ever been done before, so I am not sure why it’s being done like that now.”
Australia ran in five tries in a World Cup quarter-final, yet the focus has been entirely on Joubert and the dramatic conclusion to an unforgettable match.
“This hasn’t taken the gloss off the win at all. Not for us. For those that want to see it that way it will, but not for me. I’ll tell you that right now,” Cheika said.
The groundswell of support for Joubert, who will not referee again at this World Cup after being overlooked for the semi-finals, continued to grow on Tuesday.
Wallabies great David Campese said the World Rugby official who signed off the public rebuke of the South African official “should be shot”.
“I have been in games where referees have made real blunders, but whoever put that statement out saying the referee got it wrong should be shot. Now you’re actually saying the referees are bad,” Campese told talkSPORT.
“One of the biggest problems in world rugby is trying to get referees, and if they’re going to cop abuse every game – meaning there will be no referees – then we haven’t got a game.
“I know they make mistakes, but you have to live with them. If this decision had been the other way around people would be saying, ’oh, shut up you Aussies, you whinge all the time’. That’s what sport is all about.
“I would hate to be a referee. There is so much happening. They are human and they do make mistakes.”
Jonathan Kaplan, rugby’s most experienced international referee and a veteran of four World Cups who retired two years, has leapt to the defence of his compatriot.
“I’m just wondering whether this is a good look for World Rugby to be criticising their own assets,” Kaplan told BBC Radio 5 live.
“Craig is definitely in the top four referees in the world and that’s why he has been chosen to do the quarter-finals onwards.
“If World Rugby were going to come out and clarify the decision, there’s a lot more they could have shared with the public.”