‘Penaltygate’ shows cowardice of Craig Joubert under pressure

In 1963, the greatest robbery in history took place on a train going from Glasgow to London. However, in the 2015 World Cup that title was handed to the Scotland vs Australia quarter final. The mastermind behind this robbery – referee Craig Joubert.  In the last minute Joubert awarded a penalty to Australia which saw Foley slot the ball through the uprights. This was enough to claw back a one point lead for the Wallabies despite an inspiring performance from the Scots.

This penalty broke Scottish hearts, this penalty killed Scottish dreams, and this penalty was unjustifiably and wrongly awarded. The controversy started when Jon Welsh was ruled purposely offside for playing the ball after a knock-on by another Scot when, in reality, Australia’s Nick Phipps touched the ball. In this situation a scrum should have been awarded to Australia for the original knock-on. This was later confirmed by the World Rugby officials. In other words, Joubert’s decision was officially declared wrong.

Joubert, an absolute stickler for going to the TMO whenever he has the chance, did not in this case. This sentiment was passionately expressed by Scotland’s heroic captain Greig Laidlaw who said, “They’ve gone to the TMO for everything else.”

Indeed, the decision left many scratching their heads. ‘It was such a big decision. Why wouldn’t you go to the TMO for that?’ This was the righteous and hearty cry that bellowed from the Isles all the way to London. However, the law stipulates that the TMO can only be used to determine acts of foul play, ruling on an infringement in the build-up to a try, and to check grounding of the ball and kicks at goal – but not whether a penalty was correctly given.

Two issues arise here. Number one, Joubert was obviously unsure about the heinous penalty and knew that it would decide the game – so should protocol have been broken in order to give the correct call? The roaring response is yes.

As Vern Cotter said, a TMO referral “would have taken away any doubt”, there is no denying it would have. So the second issue that this quarter final has highlighted is that the TMO laws need to be changed. One option is to include crucial penalty decisions, especially if Rugby Union does not want a repeat of ‘penaltygate’.

Joubert-gate thickens further. The idiom goes “Rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen”. However, out of 31 men on the pitch that day only 30 are allowed to be called gentlemen. After the final whistle Joubert sprinted for the tunnel without shaking hands with the players or his fellow referees.

What Joubert did or more accurately did not do is in the words of Gavin Hastings “not rugby and not in the spirit of rugby and in fact disrespectful to the game”.

What excuses did Joubert use? In the aftermath of the defeat, World Rugby said he ran off because he could sense hostility from over 82,000 people. This is a quasi-logical excuse especially when the Scots harbour members like Richie Gray who is 6ft 10, nineteen stone of muscle, and by the looks of it was more than a little annoyed after the 80 minute mark.

However, what may come as a surprise to Joubert is that rugby is a gentlemen’s game in which he would never face physical hostility from any player. Hostility could also have come from the 80,000 strong crowd. Joubert must have thought he was in incredible danger from the soft plastic drinking vessels of the spectators, specially sold in case of a hostile situation arising. He must also have been scared of a pitch invasion, considering rugby grounds like Twickenham are so poorly manned by thousands of security and stewarding staff.

Another excuse is that he “needed the toilet”. There is only one place where that excuse belongs and ironically it’s in the place Joubert was supposedly going.

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