O’Brien sent out the missive after a controversial no-try ruling in New Zealand’s loss to the Springboks last week in Port Elizabeth, when the television match official (TMO) advised referee George Clancy there was a forward pass in the lead-up to Jimmy Cowan crossing.
The IRB’s protocols state the TMO can only rule on what happens in goal, not in the field of play — and O’Brien admitted a clear mistake had been made.
“I have sent a memo around asking everyone makes certain they don’t go outside the protocols approved by the IRB council. They are very clear, but one of our guys made a judgment call out there, and he went outside the protocols. It was an unfortunate error,” O’Brien said.
“But I have confidence you won’t see that happening at the World Cup.”
As ever, refereeing will play a crucial role at the World Cup. Much has changed in the game since the 2007 World Cup but memories of how far the game’s popularity nosedived under kick-heavy, defence-favouring rulings haven’t faded.
After aborted ELV trials in 2008-09, crackdowns on the tackle area have freed the game back up and encouraged attack. O’Brien is confident the tournament will be played in an attractive and “exciting” fashion.
He said a concerted effort to communicate and educate referees in both hemispheres over the last few years had helped create a unified, global approach to the rules. Where once there might have been differences in interpretation by refs from north and south, O’Brien said all refs now whistled off the same page.
There has been a concern about the breakdown getting increasingly bogged down this year, and coaches have loaded up with big back rowers in their World Cup squads in expectation of a royal rumble.
But conceding the breakdown had become an issue, SANZAR refs boss Lyndon Bray said referees had recently been asked to crack down on both the tackler and assist tacklers letting go of the ball-runner at the breakdown, and thus allowing an “extra second for the attacker to place the ball back.”