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RWC 2019: Referee O’Keefe Under Spotlight

There were many positives to take away for the Fiji Airways Flying Fijians in their 39-21 Rugby World Cup loss to Australia at Japan’s Sapporo Dome yesterday. Tries to Peceli
22 Sep 2019 11:05
RWC 2019: Referee O’Keefe Under Spotlight
Australia’s lock Rory Arnold runs into the Fiji Airways Flying Fijians Defence during the Rugby World Cup match opener in the Sapporo Dome, Sapporo, Japan, on September 21, 2019. Fiji lost 21-39 and play Uruguay in the next match on September 25 in Kamaishi. Insert Top right: Referee Ben O'Keefe. Photo: Bruce Southwick/ZoomFiji

There were many positives to take away for the Fiji Airways Flying Fijians in their 39-21 Rugby World Cup loss to Australia at Japan’s Sapporo Dome yesterday.

Tries to Peceli Yato and Waisea Nayacalevu on either side of half-time, coupled with a stellar kicking performance from Ben Volavola, had the Wallabies staring defeat in the face. That changed after 60 minutes when centre Levani Botia was controversially sent to the sin bin for an apparent infringement at the breakdown.

Australia eventually stormed to an impressive win but the debate around some of the refereeing decisions raged on well after the match ended. The yellow card was not the only contentious call of the evening by New Zealand referee Ben O’Keefe, who is an ophthalmologist by profession.

Fans and sports writers took to social media to criticise O’Keefe for what they deemed were major errors committed by the Rugby World Cup debutant.

One call that was widely debated was Reece Hodge’s apparent shoulder charge on Yato in the 37th minute, a hit that ended the flanker’s match. Sports science writer Ross Tucker claimed Hodge should have been red carded, writing on Twitter that a shoulder to the head is automatically deemed a high tackle.

He posted a video of the incident and World Rugby definitions of a high tackle and shoulder charge to backup his claim.

“I also don’t know why it wasn’t referred [to the video referee],” Tucker added.

Former Australian Wallabies centre Matt Giteau appeared to agree with Tucker’s analysis, although admitting that he didn’t initially think it was a dangerous tackle.

“There you go! I’m wrong. Not the first time and won’t be the last. Thanks for the clarification,” Giteau wrote in response.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald’s rugby writer Georgina Robinson, who is in Japan, O’Keefe told Fijian captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu he did not see the tackle.

Robinson, on Twitter, said: “Fiji captain Dom Waqaniburotu says he asked ref Ben O’Keefe to look at the Hodge tackle on Yato, and was told he didn’t see anything. Fiji will refer it to the citing commissioner, I am told.”

Botia’s 61st minute yellow card was yet another hotly-debated call which divided opinion.

Murray Kinsella, a rugby writer for sports website THE42, said Botia’s yellow card was justified but added that Hodge should have been carded for his tackle on Yato.

However, lawyer and freelance rugby writer, Tim O’Connor, claimed flanker Michael Hooper entered the breakdown illegally in the lead up to Botia’s yellow card.

He posted a video of the incident to support his comments.

“O’Keefe just watched a clean penalty to Fiji for not releasing, saw Hooper pivot all the around the side to come in by the Fijian gate – and penalised and yellow carded a Fijian,” he said.

“It turned this game, and it was completely inexcusable. Fiji have every reason to be raging after this.”

Edited by Leone Cabenatabua

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