Joel Jutge, head of referees at World Rugby, has defended Ben O’Keeffe after Antoine Dupont criticised his officiating in the World Cup quarter-final between France and South Africa.
Dupont, expressing frustration over the one-point loss to the Springboks, the eventual champions, questioned the refereeing standard, drawing online abuse towards O’Keeffe.
In an interview with French publication Midi Olympique, Jutge, acknowledged the pressure on Dupont’s return from injury, but disapproved of the captain’s comments, citing the ensuing online hatred.
Analysing O’Keeffe’s performance, Jutge and selectors were convinced the defeat wasn’t linked to the referee. O’Keeffe had earlier made a contentious call favoring the Boks, ruling a backward deflection that a penalty might have reversed.
The decision impacted the match, turning a potential 14-0 for France into a 7-7 contest. Despite the controversy, O’Keeffe penalised both teams only six times in the enthralling clash, the fewest in the quarter-finals.
“As the person responsible for the referees, I cannot condone what Antoine Dupont said, because it gave rise to a movement of abuse and terrible hatred online towards Ben,” Jutge told Midi Olympique.
“But I know the man, and I have no doubt about his moral values and the way he perceives exchanges between referees and players. He is a huge champion and a good person that we respect, but I repeat, I do not condone what he said that day, even if we all know that he was under enormous pressure to return following his injury.
“We analysed his performance, and after this match, the selectors and I were convinced that the defeat of the France team was not linked to his refereeing.”
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