The Guardian

Borthwick calls for more clarity over refereeing decisions

Coach seeks transparency while Eddie Jones hits out at the use of TV replays

Gerard Meagher Antibes

The England head coach, Steve Borthwick, has called for more transparency over refereeing decisions at the Rugby World Cup while his predecessor Eddie Jones has taken a swipe at the use of TV replays as the game’s disciplinary process comes under further fire.

Tom Curry was sent off inside three minutes of last week’s victory over Argentina – the fourth England player in six matches to be given his marching orders – and, while he accepted his punishment, similar incidents involving South Africa’s Jesse Kriel, Chile’s Martín Sigren, Wales’s Dan Biggar and Romain Taofifénua of France have not been deemed worthy of a red card.

That has led to accusations of inconsistent officiating at the World Cup with Sigren and Taofifénua both sent to the “bunker” for review while Kriel and Biggar escaped any sanction. While the public is able to listen to decisions made by the TMO, that is not the case with the bunker review system and Borthwick yesterday became the latest head coach to call for consistency while also encouraging more clarity.

Before England’s match against Japan tomorrow, Borthwick said: “In terms of the cards situation, quite clearly what we all want is consistency and probably some transparency around the decision-making process but for us we’ll concentrate on what we can do and what we know, which is our performance on Sunday.

“We always aim to keep 15 players on the pitch. If you look at our discipline and card situation, we want to ensure we don’t have any cards. But discipline outside of that, we conceded seven penalties last week. So, I think you see a team that’s trying hard to be disciplined. That’s an aim for us.”

Highlighting the discrepancy between World Rugby’s willingness to appeal against the initial decision to rescind Owen Farrell’s red card last month and the governing body’s relative reluctance to speak on disciplinary matters at the tournament, Borthwick added: “It has been said and noted that there has been a large amount of commentary from different sources about what appears to be a lack of consistency and transparency in the decision making process. It’s not my role to comment on that, it’s World Rugby’s.

“I also note there was a tremendous amount of comment from World Rugby on Owen Farrell for a couple of weeks during our preparation for this tournament. It was a situation that went on and on with lots of comment from World Rugby. I note there hasn’t been very many comments from World Rugby – I’m told – in the last week or so.”

Jones believes the use of the TMO is harming the game as a spectacle. A limited number of replays have been shown of incidents being reviewed in an effort to avoid lengthy delays but the consequence has been that supporters are being left confused as to why decisions are being made.

“I’ve always said you need the game to be more continuous, the average ball-in-play is 30 seconds, the average break in the game is 70 seconds, so you encourage a power contest,” said Jones, whose Australia side face Fiji tomorrow. “I think we need more continuous play.

“Our use of the TMO in rugby is fraught with danger. They are asking a referee in the grandstand to make decisions on a different angle on the game, through video. It’s not making the game a better spectacle, it’s not making a better game for the players.”

Jones was asked whether he and other coaches could collectively advise World Rugby in an effort to improve the process but said: [They] don’t want to know.”

On Wednesday World Rugby and France 2023, the tournament organisers, addressed the standard of officiating at the tournament so far.

“Refereeing is one of the hardest jobs in the sport, and our responsibility is to make the referees’ lives as simple as possible by always supporting them. We know we have the best of the best in our refereeing team,” said Michel Poussau, the France 2023 tournament director.

Privately, it is understood that World Rugby is concerned by the proliferation of still images that leads to players being effectively tried by social media.

‘In terms of the cards situation, what we all want is consistency’

Steve Borthwick England head coach