New Zealand referee Ben O’Keefe should have been stood down after his send-off shocker in Brisbane. He should not be in charge of the potentially series-deciding second Test between the Springboks and British & Irish Lions, writes Mark Keohane.
O’Keefe got everything wrong in his decision to send off Wallabies wing Marika Koroibete for a high tackle on French captain Anthony Jelonch in the fifth minute in the third and final Test between Australia and France in Brisbane. O’Keefe had every television angle presented to him, in slow motion, in normal speed and he also had the luxury of watching the kick-off receive from only a few metres. He failed himself and he failed the game with his refusal to accept the obvious in that it was never a red card.
He was conned by the action of Jelonch, who delayed his crumbling to the ground by a good five seconds when he realised that there hadn’t been an instant response from the referee, and several replays showed that the only thing Jelonch should have been awarded was an Oscar.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie was livid afterwards, at the French captain’s antics and at O’Keefe’s outrageous decision.
Former All Blacks and Kiwi international Sonny Bill Williams, an analyst covering the Test, was as stunned by the decision and he took to social media in writing that he was all for protecting the player but that the game also had to be protected
Rennie and Williams were vindicated because an independent World Rugby tribunal on Monday acquitted Koroibete of any red card offence. They saw the tackle as it was, a shoulder on shoulder contact and then an incidental connection with the jaw as one player was on the way up and the other on the way down in body movement.
But typically and predictably, there was no sanction to O’Keefe and he will take the whistle in the biggest Test of the year – the one that potentially decides the Lions series in South Africa.
Australia’s Nic Berry will take charge of the first Test between the Springboks and British & Irish Lions at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday, 24 July, with O’Keeffe and France’s Mathieu Raynal assisting him, and New Zealand’s Brendon Pickerill serving as the TMO.
Raynal, who also controversially issued a red card early on against the United States in their defeat against Ireland in Dublin a fortnight ago, will be in charge of the third and final Test, with O’Keefe at the centre of the attention in the second Test, which will be played at either the Cape Town Stadium or the FNB Stadium in Soweto, Gauteng.
Sam Phillips of the Sydney Morning Herald, under the headline that common sense had prevailed, wrote that Rugby Australia chair Hamish McLennan lauded a World Rugby judiciary decision to not uphold (Marika) Koroibete’s red card and pointed to the incident as the perfect example of why a 20-minute red card should be introduced in Test rugby.
Rugby Australia Director Scott Johnson said: ‘We want the game to be safe, and we understand that there is mitigation but it’s a contact sport. If you slow everything down to minute details, you’re always going to be looking for issues. If it’s genuine, no issue. But we shouldn’t be playing for penalties or cards. That’s for another code. That’s not us.’
An independent disciplinary committee has decided not to uphold Marika Koroibete's red card.
Tackle "initially made shoulder to shoulder contact. Subsequently, through the impact, any contact to the chest and neck was incidental by Koroibete." pic.twitter.com/GRtMCjJfir
— Murray Kinsella (@Murray_Kinsella) July 19, 2021