Eddie Jones a year ago blasted Ben O’Keeffe for Welsh bias in a Test England won and the Australian coach Dave Rennie was as scathing of O’Keeffe a month ago in a Test the Wallabies won. The odds favour Kiwi referee O’Keeffe again getting it wrong in Cape Town, writes Mark Keohane.
O’Keefe will referee the 2nd Test between the Springboks and British & Irish Lions in Cape Town on Saturday. He shouldn’t be in charge of a match of such significance and his track record suggests he will once again be the talking point, regardless of who wins on Saturday.
O’Keefe gets it wrong – and he gets it wrong with big decisions, as with his red-card sending off of Australian winger Marika Koroibete just five minutes into the third and series deciding Test against France.
Australia, remarkably, produced a stunning comeback to win the Test, despite playing 14 against 15 for 75 minutes.
O’Keeffe’s fellow Kiwi, former All Black flyhalf Andrew Mehrtens, branded the decision an ‘absolute travesty’ and Rennie, a New Zealander and former NZ u20 coach, was brutal in his assessment of O’Keeffe’s red card decision.
Former Wallaby winger Lote Tuqiri called the decision embarrassing, while a host of rugby media said red cards like those were destroying the game.
‘World Rugby have allowed refereeing to reach this point due to a complete lack of accountability and it’s hard to envisage what will have to happen for something to change,’ tweeted Sydney Morning Herald’s Sam Phillips.
An independent World Rugby appointed judiciary cleared Koroibete of a red card offence in an emphatic statement that O’Keeffe and his match-day officials had got it wrong.
In 2020 O’Keeffe red-carded England’s Manu Tuilagi for what he viewed was an an illegal hit on Wales’s George North, reducing England to 13 men at the time, with Ellis Genge having already been binned.
England coach Jones didn’t spare O’Keeffe after England won.
‘We trained on Wednesday … the whole session was 13 v 16, so we had some practice – we thought it might happen,’ said Jones.
‘In the end, we were 13 against 16, it’s hard. When you have got a three-man advantage, you are going to do some damage. That’s what happened. We had a numerical disadvantage, so it was tough against quality opposition.
Asked to explain who the 16th man was, Jones said: ‘You work it out.’
O’Keeffe was the youngest referee at the 2019 World Cup.
Rugby World this week ran an article, introducing O’Keeffe.
Meet rugby referee Ben O’Keeffe
Ben O’Keeffe was born 3 January 1989.
He began officiating in 2008, at the age of 19, and went on to become a a professional referee for the New Zealand Rugby Union in 2013.
He took charge of his first Super Rugby match in 2015, when the Highlanders faced the Crusaders. Before this he had served as an assistant referee and whistling matches at the Junior World Championship. A year later, he took charge of his first international match, looking after Samoa versus Georgia (a game that ended 19-all).
O’Keeffe would go on to be the youngest referee at the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan, taking his bow at Australia v Fiji at the Sapporo Dome.
O’Keeffe also has a career away from rugby, explaining in 2019: “Certainly, no one can question my eyesight. I’m an Ophthalmologist. I’ve been lucky enough to balance both careers over the last couple of years as being a professional referee has become a full-time commitment.” Dr O’Keeffe co-founded oDocs Eye Care.
Ben O’Keeffe: “I often joke that if I’m in South Africa and I receive three messages saying how bad my performance was, I reckon I’ve had a pretty good game. When it gets to ten messages, you go ‘okay, I’ve done something wrong’.”
Also on www.keo.co.za