The Peyper suspension: Ridiculous
OPINION: Ridiculous! That is what many voices are shouting in protest against the suspension of Jaco Peyper, one of the referees at the World Cup in Japan.
This is the age of protest, it seems, whether you are in London, Hong Kong, Beirut, Barcelona or Quito.
You go to the essence of democracy and refuse to accept what governments tell you.
The governing body in rugby, too, does not have its decisions and decrees mindlessly accepted.
And that has happened in the miserable case of referee Peyper.
World Rugby’s special committee to select referees chose 23 match officials for the 2019 World Cup in Japan – 12 to referee, seven to assist referees on the field and four television match officials.
As with all selections, there were criticisms of the selections, especially the choice of five French referees and the omission of referees such as Glen Jackson, Marius van der Westhuizen and Mike Fraser.
Then after the first round of pool matches at the World Cup, World Rugby said that its referees had not been up to scratch, thus inviting criticism of referees.
To some, it seemed like a strange bird fouling its own nest.
Many accepted the invitation to be critical and referees, along with the weather, became the “bad” side of a brilliant World Cup.
This criticism was losing its impetus and then along came the Peyper incident.
Peyper refereed the quarterfinal between France and Wales, during which he sent French lock Sébastien Vahaamahina off for grabbing Wales’s Aaron Wainwright around the neck and then striking him with the back of his elbow.
The referee consulted his assistants and the TMO, examining replays with them. He then sent Vahaamahina off the field, showing him a red card. It is a decision that has found general acceptance, including by Jacques Brunel, France’s coach.
Wales won the match by a single point and its many red-clad supporters celebrated in the streets of Oita.
A group came across referee Peyper and had a picture taken with him in which he and others simulated Vahaamahina’s back elbow strike. The picture appeared on social media, and there was an outcry amongst disappointed French supporters.
That was on Sunday.
On Monday, World Rugby chose Peyper for the semifinal match between England and New Zealand.
On Tuesday morning they took him off the match and instead appointed Nigel Owens, saying: “World Rugby can confirm that the match officials selection committee did not consider Jaco Peyper for selection this weekend.”
In effect, he was suspended, not allowed to perform for a match.
That is what would happen to a player guilty of foul play on the field.
Peyper’s involvement in the picture hardly qualified as foul play.
It also is highly unlikely that he would have posed for the picture with the intention of publishing it for the world to see.
It seemed merely a bit of fun, and most people would be happy to see a referee acting as a normal person. It would certainly not have endeared referees to that group of Welsh supporters if he had rebuffed their friendly joy.
Rugby is still a game which is played and therefore should be enjoyed.
Referees are a part of that game. Surely nobody in his right mind would expect them to stride off like solemn undertakers to post-match solitude.
In the announcement of the referees for the semifinals, World Rugby’s chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “I would like to congratulate Nigel and Jérôme, the assistant referees and TMOs on their selection for the semi-finals.
“These are the best of the best.”
Better than Peyper? Wasn’t he generally regarded as the best-performing official after the quarterfinals?
Jaco Peyper dans un bel hommage à Vahaamahina. Photo de Fabien Heuzé pic.twitter.com/g5vo93413s
— Arnaud Coudry (@ArnaudCoudry) October 20, 2019
The New Zealand programme, The Breakdown, roundly criticised World Rugby for its decision, and so did Clive Woodward, who played for England and the B&I Lions and coached England and the B&I Lions. He did so in his column in the Daily Mail.
Woodward wrote: “Referees are not immune from criticism, but I support Jaco Peyper 100 percent in having a little fun with Welsh supporters.
“It’s ludicrous that the so-called incident was investigated in any way.”
He added: “Jaco Peyper was out relaxing after a huge game and the day a referee can not enjoy a beer and a joke with either the players or fans is the day rugby has lost its way.”