The Rugby World Cup final risks being decided in controversial circumstances after the sport's governing body confirmed it would not be assessing television match official protocols in time for the latter stages of the tournament. Referee Craig Joubert was unable to refer his decision to award Australia a late penalty - a conclusion which World Rugby have deemed to have been made incorrectly and led to the Wallabies defeating Scotland in the quarter-final at Twickenham - to the TMO but there are no plans to overhaul the process until after the competition.
Joubert has been denounced by his employers following his performance, which saw him penalise Scotland, at the time leading by two points, in the 78th minute of the game after adjudging Jon Welsh to be offside following a knock-on. According to the South African official a subsequent touch from Australia replacement Nick Phipps, prior to Welsh catching the ball, was intentional meaning the Newcastle Falcons prop was penalised. World Rugby have now quashed this ruling, stating Joubert was incorrect in his assessment of the incident which instead should have led to an Australian scrum.
While the 37-year-old has been hung out to dry by the governors of the global game and dropped from officiating either of the upcoming semi-finals between South Africa and New Zealand and Argentina and Australia, the incident which saw Joubert run from the field play immediately after blowing the full-time whistle has been overlooked. Former Scotland international Gavin Hastings, was among those to react angrily to the actions of Joubert, who had a bottle thrown in his direction as he made his quick exit. The episode threatens to overshadow a record-breaking Rugby World Cup, which saw total attendances surpass two million during the quarter-final weekend.
Before Bernard Foley's successful penalty, which saw Australia prevail 35-34 and complete an all-southern hemisphere line-up in the semi-final, Joubert was seen checking replays on the big screen as he appeared to doubt his judgment amid a chorus of boos from the 82,000 Twickenham crowd. A referee can only call for assistance from the TMO for decisions regarding the scoring of a try, whether a kick at goal has been successful, infringements in the lead-up to a try being scored or possible foul play, and World Rugby has no plans to review these protocols before the sharp end of the tournament.
"We wouldn't do it during the tournament," chief executive Brett Gosper said, speaking at a Beyond Rugby event at City Hall. "All teams have played under one protocol and that will be the protocol retained throughout the tournament.
"We will look at it like we look at every aspect of this tournament to work out if there are improvements we can make. We're not folding our arms on any aspect of this Rugby World Cup. We will look at everything and if we can make improvements we will.
"You get into a debate about where do you draw the line as to where you use it and don't use it and it is a very complex conversation. It involves a lot of people from our law review group, rugby committee. We accelerate these things through but that requires calm analysis which has got us to where we are. We'll look at TMO protocols for all competitions and well assess how it is."
Since hastily leaving the field at full-time, without shaking hands with any of the players involved in the epic last eight encounter, Joubert has been subject of intense criticism both from former players, including Hastings and England World Cup winner Matt Dawson, and vociferous supporters on social media. World Rugby has pledged to sanction the person responsible for aiming the bottle in Joubert's direction and believes the reception to the performance has been "excessive", despite their own condemnation.
"We will investigate that," Gosper said of the alleged thrown bottle. "If that was the case [we will] find out where that came from and if we can sanction or punish anyone who directed a object towards a match official then of course we would act upon that. Certainly it is not part of rugby that behaviour so we would investigate that for sure.
"I think you have to put some of these comments in perspective, I think some of them have been very excessive. Not pointing at anyone specifically but I do think there have been excessive comments. Mistakes are made on a rugby field not just by officials and I think people should understand that."
Brett Gosper was speaking at Beyond Rugby, part of the Beyond Sport Summit & Awards. Beyond Rugby is a continuation of a conversation to create a more proactive community to address the role of rugby in bringing about positive social change not just across the UK, but across the world.