BACK in the midst of time, back when my journalism career was no more than an impending work experience spell at what became my first paper, back in my teens, back even when my body could withstand a game of rugby, a poor refereeing decision cost us a place in a cup final.
There may have been other factors, but let’s put it down to the ref. It seems to be the fashionable thing to do.
It was a close tussle in a second team semi-final against local rivals, a place in the final at Kingsholm – Mecca in terms of rugby in Gloucester, if Mecca was overlooked by a cathedral – up for grabs in my first season of senior rugby.
If memory serves, we (actually, think it was probably me) were penalised late on at either a ruck or a scrum, the opposition kicked to the corner and, eventually, turned pressure into points and snatched a lead we didn’t have the time or opportunity to regain.
And that is as close as my playing career got to Kingsholm – thankfully, my journalism career went there and a lot further – and in the list of great rugby heartbreaks, it doesn’t really register.
Nor do my experiences match up to those of the experts who have spearheaded the criticism of referee Craig Joubert after Scotland’s rather more high-profile loss to Australia in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final.
Yes, Joubert was wrong to run off the pitch without shaking hands with the players. It is one of the key tenets which rugby holds onto as part of the mutual respect among all concerned (regardless of what some of the physical battering involved may suggest) that it believes (rightly, much of the time) elevates it above other sports.
And he was rightly castigated – although ex-internationals, generally with a Scottish accent, suggesting he should “never referee at this level again” within minutes of it happening, did little to uphold the traditions of the game they claim to be defending.
Why Joubert ran off has not been proved. Suggestions have ranged from the need to use the toilet to fearing for his safety – amid isolated reports of a bottle being thrown at him – but they need to learn the facts before making quite such outlandish reactions. Especially one persistent rugby irritant.
But, more worrying to rugby’s image – both of itself and from the watching sporting world – is the way so many experts, ex-players, fans, keyboard warriors and, most worryingly, World Rugby, dived into the torrent of abuse and blame Joubert has received in the minutes, hours and days following his award of the deciding penalty against Scotland.
Let’s look at this coldly.
World Rugby took 24 hours to review and assess the controversial offside decision before categorically stating Joubert was wrong (an appalling decision which far outstrips any mistake made by the South African).
Experts either made their judgements from the safety of the stands – a long way at Twickenham – or, having seen the replay from every available angle and speed. They could not agree on anything other than Joubert should have gone to the video referee (TMO), something he was not able to do in that situation and which, for the first few games of the tournament, they had been telling us was being called upon far too often.
The Twitterati didn’t bother too much with any evidence (rather like the despicable cowards who attacked Wales wing Alex Cuthbert after their defeat to South Africa).
Joubert had one view, very little time and no confession from Aussie scrum-half Nick Phipps that he had intentionally grabbed at the ball – an act which, in the letter of the law, would turn the penalty into a scrum.
No, Joubert had no help but made a perfectly justifiable decision based on the evidence in front of him – and how on earth is he supposed to judge what was going through Phipps’ mind, especially as the player himself was appealing for the penalty?
Not Phipps’ fault, nor the unfortunate, penalised Jon Welsh, nor Joubert. Right or wrong, his decision was perfectly understandable. Unlike the reaction of his bosses at World Rugby who should not be pointing fingers, but looking at how they could help him.
Less technical laws relying less on interpretation and more on hard evidence for starters. More convenient, more efficient TMO rules for seconds.
And all that from a decision which would have been forgotten if it had happened at any other stage of the match – rather like the other decisions which are now being pored over (and spuriously tweeted out by another former international) from throughout the 80 minutes.
Take it to extremes, there was a case for a knock on in Scotland’s ultimately winning try against Samoa in their final group game. Rule that out and Japan qualify, not Scotland.
Didn’t hear too many complaints about the referee then.
That’s extreme and, to be honest, absurd. That’s sport with all its infuriating frailties which somehow add up to the drama that makes it special.
The result stands, whatever evidence anyone comes up. Or at least until some bright spark with too much time and money comes up with the idea of a legal challenge, based on a verdict on Joubert already delivered by World Rugby.
But above all, Scotland did not lose solely because of that decision or any other made by Joubert. They conceded five tries, they threw a risky lineout to the tail when defending a lead in the dying moment, they conceded 30-plus points (which would have been a lot more if Bernard Foley had been on form with the boot and Australia had played anything like they can) and over the course of 80 minutes, made other errors.
As did Australia, as did Joubert. And that’s sport. Why the best team doesn’t always win and why we can’t always pick the winners.
Unless you are betting on Southern Hemisphere teams that is.
The rugby has been supplying much of the soundtrack of the last few weeks, but there’s also been the little matter of starting out on the D songs on the A-Z iPod Challenge.
And wading into the shallows of a new letter has been distinctly uninspiring with plenty of less than great album tracks and little to really grab the attention from Uncle Earl to Pavement.
There’s been a few exceptions, the ever-reliable Ryan Adams popping up (twice) with Damn, Sam (I Love A Woman That Rains) while the Dan section produced several listenable tracks, most notably Johnny Cash’s reading of Danny Boy and Daniel by Veronica Falls, one of those bands who keep going up in my estimation as this trek goes on.
Unlike an awful lot of rugby fans.