Scotland have received confirmation that they were robbed of a place in the World Cup semi-finals by a refereeing blunder from Craig Joubert that gifted Australia victory at Twickenham on Sunday.
The Wallabies clinched a dramatic 35-34 victory in one of the tournament’s great knockout matches when fly-half Bernard Foley was on target from the kicking tee with 43 seconds remaining.
World Rugby said in a statement that having reviewed the fateful passage of play, Joubert should have awarded Australia a scrum for a knock-on and not a penalty for accidental offside.
The Scottish Rugby Union has declined to comment on the admission by the sport’s global governing body.
Inevitably given his central role in one of the most controversial refereeing decisions in rugby history, Joubert’s tournament appears over after Wayne Barnes and Jerome Garces were appointed to oversee this weekend’s semi-finals. Nigel Owens appears destined to take charge of the final.
World Rugby has failed to explain why Joubert sprinted down the tunnel after blowing the final whistle, but it is understood that the official wanted to avoid any heated discussions on the pitch with devastated Scotland players.
Vern Cotter’s men were magnificent as they fought back to establish a 34-32 lead, only to be denied a famous victory by Joubert’s pivotal late call that provoked a furious response from former players of all nationalities.
Scotland great Gavin Hastings viewed Joubert’s action in dashing off as “despicable”, ex-captain Andy Nicol branded the South African a “coward” and retired England scrum-half Matt Dawson Tweeted “Craig Joubert you are a disgrace and should never referee again!!”
However, a backlash was forming on Monday in response to the vitriol faced by Joubert who was previously considered among the game’s finest referees.
“We hold up our sport and praise it for the way referees conduct themselves and how players conduct themselves with referees,” former England captain Lawrence Dallaglio said.
“So I have been a little saddened by some of the comments towards the referee as that doesn’t have a place in our game. I am not terribly impressed.”
The more extreme reaction to Sunday’s drama was condemned as “excessive” by World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper, who said Joubert would be “well looked after” in the face of Scottish fury.
Contributing to the groundswell of support for Joubert was former South Africa captain Bobby Skinstad, who endorsed his compatriot’s refereeing credentials and painted a more human picture of a man being widely vilified.
“Craig’s background is a lot more complex than people realise,” Skinstad told PA.
“His father Des was an outstanding referee and made a decision from a young age to take up refereeing full-time. He made such an impact on so many schoolkids’ lives and was bit of a legend in the Kwazule-Natal area.
“Des passed away from cancer and Craig has dedicated his refereeing career to the memory of his father.
“Craig is a quality individual and a top, top referee and all the stuff around the decision has been blown out of all proportion.
“I’d feel really sad if any of this has got to him as a person given he has given so much to the game.”
Australia coach Michael Cheika, preparing his team for Sunday’s semi-final against Argentina, has also come to the defence of the beleaguered Joubert.
“No one’s congratulating Joubert for picking up the tiniest knock-on before we scored the try in the corner and going back to the TMO. Some decisions you’ll get and some decisions you won’t,” Cheika said.
“Someone threw a bottle at him when he was leaving, didn’t they? I’d be racing off too if I saw a bottle coming. I don’t think anything of him going off quickly.
“You’ve got to assess the things for what they are and not the more romantic nature of what we’re all thinking. He’s just a person like everyone else.”