'No apology': Peyper's testimony against Johnny Sexton
REACTION: In a very detailed testimony, South African referee Jaco Peyper has shared his account regarding the Johnny Sexton misconduct case.
Peyper along with his assistant referees, English duo Karl Dickson and Christophe Ridley, handed in written testimonies of what occurred at the end of the Champions Cup Final in May.
Following the Grand Final between Leinster and La Rochelle Johnny Sexton and Leinster were charged with misconduct after the Irish flyhalf engaged in a heated exchange with referee Peyper and other match officials on the pitch in Dublin.
Despite not being part of the playing squad in that game, cameras caught Sexton approaching the officials after the match.
The original case against Sexton also alleged that he shouted ‘an obscenity’ as the officials picked up their medals and that he had followed the officials after the ceremony.
It also reveals that up until last Thursday when the hearing took place, match day referee Jaco Peyper had received no direct apology from the Ireland star over the incident.
The 38-year-old Leinster flyhalf was handed a three-match ban for misconduct after the Champions Cup final defeat to La Rochelle.
He accepted the charge and will miss Ireland’s warm-up games against Italy, England, and Samoa.
However, he will still be available to captain Ireland at the World Cup in France.
The EPCR have released a 36-page transcript of the six-hour long disciplinary hearing and it includes the testimony of Peyper and his assistants.
The governing allegations related to three incidents where Sexton was accused of misconduct.
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INCIDENT ONE: “In ‘incident one’, shortly after the end of the Match, Sexton approached the match officials and on three separate occasions gestured towards them and/or spoke to them inappropriately (including at least – as acknowledged in the letter from the Club dated June 23, 2023 – stating that it was a “disgrace the match officials had not got the big decisions right” and using an “expletive” while doing so).
INCIDENT TWO: In ‘incident two’, at the start of the medals presentation, while accompanied by a young child, Sexton stood behind the match officials, looking at them and directing further inappropriate comments at them;
INCIDENT THREE: In ‘incident three’, after the medals presentation, Sexton approached the match officials and followed them a short distance as they left the field before walking away
Leinster were also accused of failing to control Sexton, who was not playing on the day.
Central to the case against Sexton was the testimony of Peyper, as well as assistant Karl Dickson, Christophe Ridley and Tom Foley, the four officials that were on the receiving end of the ‘spray’ from the injured Leinster standoff.
“After the final whistle, whilst waiting on the field for the medal ceremony, and becoming aware of Johnny Sexton (the Leinster player who was not in the Match Squad for the final) taking a position near us and staring at us. I was still standing near the halfway line with my assistants, taking instruction from EPCR’s Match Director, Ben Harries, as to how the match officials’ medals presentation would work.
“I became aware that Sexton was approaching my assistants and I, speaking loudly and angrily. Match officials commonly refer to this type of behaviour as ‘spraying’. I could not hear what he was saying because of the noise in the stadium, but from his body language, facial expressions, and gestures (he pointed at us as he was speaking), I could tell that he was upset. It was clear from his increasing proximity and aggressive demeanour that he wished to confront us and did so intentionally. My assistants were also aware of his hostile reaction, and one [Karl Dickson] reached across to keep him at a distance before he moved away from us and approached a gathering of Leinster players and staff.
“Following our instruction to move across to the medal presentation position, my assistants, the TMO and I became aware that Johnny Sexton had followed us across the field and taken up a position a few metres behind us and to our left. He was with a little boy. As soon as we realized that he had taken up a position behind us and was staring at us, we turned our backs to try and avoid any further confrontation with him.
“Following the award of our medals, my assistants, the TMO and I left the stage and made our way across to the position identified by match manager. We became aware that Johnny Sexton had turned this way too and started to follow us. We decided to leave the pitch over the touchline nearest the tunnel. As we passed the ‘Champions board’ (where the winners normally congregate for a photograph), we kept our heads down and continued to make our way to the touchline to avoid engaging and to prevent a further confrontation.
“There was no further engagement with Johnny Sexton once we had left the field, and I was not aware of any continuation of his behaviour, which had been provocative throughout. I was very pleased that nobody on my team of four reacted.
“I have not received any contact post-match around this matter from Leinster or Johnny Sexton, and also no explanation or apology of any form for this conduct,” concluded Peyper.
The hearing heard that Sexton accepted his conduct in incident 1 was “completely unacceptable” for which he “apologised unreservedly”.
*For the full transcript CLICK HERE!!
“After the final whistle, I was standing near the halfway line with Jaco and Christophe, listening to the EPCR Match Rep about the process of receiving our medals. I saw the Leinster Rugby player, Johnny Sexton (who was not in the match squad for the Final) gesturing from afar and approaching us. He was getting closer and closer but I could not hear the exact words used because of the noise, but I could see that he was unhappy.
“I decided, once Sexton got within reach of us, that some intervention was necessary, and reached across to keep him at a distance, before he moved away from us towards the Leinster players and staff who had gathered to the side.
“Sexton then followed us across the field to where we were waiting to be called up to receive our medals and took up a position a few metres behind us and to our left. He had a young boy with him. We turned our backs and avoided making eye contact with him to try and discourage him from approaching us again or persisting with his behaviour.
“After we received our medals, we left the stage and walked toward the entrance to the tunnel. We realized that Sexton had taken up a position on the far side of the Champions board and had turned and started to follow us towards the touchline. Our concern was that he might initiate further contact. We kept going until we got to the tunnel, by which time we realized that he had stopped following us. There were no further interactions with him after that.”
“After the final whistle, Jaco, Karl and I were being given a briefing by the EPCR Match Rep about the medals’ presentation process. Sexton approached us from the touchline (we were some way infield, just inside the Leinster half) pointing at us and speaking with frustration. I could not hear exactly what he said because it was so noisy.
“Karl was the first to react and put his arm out to keep him at a distance and usher him away. He then moved away from us towards the Leinster Rugby players and staff who had assembled further inside the Leinster Rugby half. As we were waiting in the other half of the field to be called up to receive our medals, we noticed that Sexton (with a little boy) came toward the same part of the field and was standing behind us, to our left, at a distance of about 15 metres.
“We turned our backs to him and tried not to make eye contact to avoid any potential confrontation. I did not hear him say or shout anything at this point. As we passed the Champions board to leave the field, I realized that Sexton had turned towards us from where he was standing on the far side of the Champions board and had started to walk towards us. He approached saying my name and asked me If we could speak at which point I said sorry but we can’t. I would describe the way he approached this point as measured and not confrontational.”
“After the final whistle, I quickly walked back to the changing rooms. I dropped off my bag and walked down the tunnel and onto the pitch. The three on-field match officials were moving towards the left-hand side of the halfway line as a group when I saw them.
“I walked to join them and we were asked to get ready to go up and receive our medals. We stood near the 22m line approximately 25 metres from the touch line. There were a number of Leinster players in the vicinity. We were aware that Sexton was close by with a young boy. It was clear from his body language that he was upset – he was attempting to catch our eye and shook his head and muttered every time eye contact was established. I could not make out what he was saying. His body language was agitated and he was clearly angry. I mentioned to the rest of the team of 4 that Johnny was trying to make contact with us so we decided we should turn our backs in order to avoid any escalation or make the situation worse.
“We were soon asked to collect our medals. As a team of four we waited in a position told to us by an EPCR member of staff. The Leinster players went up to receive their medals. Sexton stood around the 22-metre line, 15 metres from touch. As previously he was attempting to catch our eye and was shaking his head. Once both teams had received their medals and La Rochelle had lifted the trophy the team of four walked back towards the tunnel. We were aware of Sexton stood to our right so we walked quickly and tried to avoid making any eye contact. As we got closer to the touchline I was aware that Sexton walked towards Christophe Ridley – due to the noise I could not be sure what was said. Christophe dealt with him professionally and we continued to walk into the tunnel. I did not see or hear from Sexton thereafter.”
Maybe crucially, none of the officials could precisely recall what Sexton had said, while the player himself said he could not recall the exact words he used on the day.
There was further testimony from retired referee Tony Spreadbury, the EPCR’s head of match officials, who characterised his interaction with Sexton, which came prior to the main on-field incident, as a ‘spray’.
“Prior to me leaving my seat at full-time, Johnny Sexton had entered the Technical Zone (he was there or thereabouts on final whistle). Sexton was walking back along the pitch side, along the tarmacked concourse just in front of the first row of seats, and just adjacent to the Technical Zone, when he looked in my direction and started to shout at me. He was approximately 7 or 8 metres away and made eye contact with me as he started to shout. I would characterise his actions as ‘a spraying’. Within 15-20 seconds of this interaction, Sexton walked onto the pitch and approached the match officials, where I understand he also gave them a ‘spraying’”.
Spreadbury only became aware of three central incidents when the other referee began discussing whether or not they should attend the ‘hospitality’ for fear of encountering an angry Sexton.
Spreadbury confirms that Sexton made an apology to him via email.
“On Thursday, May 25, I replied to an email I received from Leo Cullen [Leinster Director of Rugby] raising certain incidents that required clarification arising from the previous weekend’s matct. I alerted Cullen to the fact that I had spoken with Sexton out of courtesy, as Cullen always asks permission from me [as Head of Match Officials] before making contact with a referee directly.
“During that email, I referred to the alleged incident in the tunnel at half-time and reported to Cullen that there was no complaint from the Team of four about that halftime incident. At the point I exchanged emails with Cullen, I had only recently been made aware of the allegations of misconduct against Sexton, as the EPCR Disciplinary Officer had received the balance of the video footage of the incident from HawkEye the previous evening and was beginning to make a case that EPCR should investigate, so I was quite careful not to be drawn on that.”
LEINSTER AND SEXTON TESTIMONY: Leinster then gave their account of what happened, effectively issuing a mea cupla over the first incident, but claiming that the second and third incidents did not merit misconduct charges.
REFERRING TO INCIDENT ONE: “[Sexton] entered the pitch on the half-way line walking towards his teammates. As he made his way into the Leinster half, Sexton noticed the match officials to his left and began to walk in their direction. He has viewed the footage and is aware he pointed in the direction of the match officials as he walked. Sexton does not believe the match officials noticed him as he walked or that he said anything to the match officials as he walked. When he was near the area where the match officials were standing and speaking with another non-match official, they noticed Sexton and he made a remark to the match officials as a group which was critical of their performance, which he regrets and for which he has apologised. Karl Dickson gestured for him to move on. He did so and continued to his teammates. The incident was over in a matter of seconds. It was not premeditated, in that when he entered the pitch he did so as the club captain walking to console his teammates at the end of a cup final.”
REFERRING TO INCIDENT TWO: Leinster outline how Sexton’s position was merely a function of him being around his fellow Leinster players and that any obscenities uttered could not have been heard by the officials during the medal ceremony.
“The position Sexton took up was dictated entirely by the fact that there were Leinster players and non-players already there he wanted to join.
“Sexton has seen the footage which shows him speaking four or five words. He does not recall the words he spoke but has confirmed they were not intended to be heard by the match officials and Sexton is certain they could not have been heard by the match officials. They were simply a verbal expression to himself of the acute disappointment he was feeling at the time. It’s perfectly clear from the footage that none of the other players or officials in close proximity to Sexton appear to have heard what he said or to have reacted to it in any way if it was heard.”
REFERRING TO INCIDENT THREE: Sexton then claims that the third incident was an attempt to apologise for the comments he made during the medal ceremony.
“He noticed the match officials walk behind him and turned towards them to apologise for the remark he had made during incident two. He said Christophe, being the first name of Christophe Ridley, the match official nearest to him, in an effort to make his apology but Christophe Ridley said not now Sexton and he walked back to where he had been standing.”
He did accept that he wanted “to let them [the officials] know he was unhappy with a couple of their big decisions” and that he had used f-word expletives, how of which he did not know or recall.
Sexton denies following the officials following the medal ceremony.
The disciplinary panel also accepted in their ‘factual findings’ that Sexton had mouthed something at the officials during the medal ceremony but that it may not have been intended for them to hear nor do they believe that they did hear it, as their testimonies suggested.
The panel found against the Ireland playmaker in Incidents one and two. The claim in Incident three that Sexton lay in wait for the officials and followed them was dismissed.
Interestingly, the panel confirmed that they had been provided with copies of other cases, including World Rugby’s case against Rassie Erasmus in 2021 over the British & Irish Lions tour incident, among a long list of case of misconduct.
The panel also referenced two recent cases where they admitted inconsistency in sentencing in rugby union, citing cases against England test stars Kyle Sinckler and Jack Nowell, with Leinster likening Sexton’s comments to the English tighthead.
“By way of example: Kyle Sinckler received a two-match suspension for uttering the words, “Are you f-ing serious” to a referee on the pitch whereas Jack Nowell was fined [and had to attend a refereeing course] for a tweet in which he described a referee’s decision as “that’s one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen.”.
Andy Farrell confirmed that Ireland were intending to use Sexton in the warm-up games as he had been “out of the game through injury since March 18, 2023 we feel that this would be the minimum number of games that he will need to be match fit for the start of the World Cup”.
The panel also heard that Sexton would not be directed to apologise to the officials involved as “he told us during the hearing that he will apologise directly to each of the match officials. We have no reason to doubt his veracity and are confident he will do so forthwith.”