Referee Jaco Peyper sidelined over photo with fans

AP, Reuters

World Rugby has sidelined Jaco Peyper from officiating at any of the World Cup semifinals and appointed Nigel Owens as referee of the knockout game between defending champion New Zealand and England.

Peyper has apologized for posing for a photograph with a group of Wales fans, holding his right elbow horizontally and into the face of one of the supporters, in a gesture apparently mocking a key incident in Wales’ comeback 20-19 win over France on Sunday when French lock Sebastien Vahaamahina was sent off for violent play.

The South African referee had been in control of the Wales-France quarterfinal on Sunday and issued Vahaamahina a red card when the French forward raised his elbow into the face of a Welsh player in the second half.

The photo, taken by a French journalist, was widely shared Monday on social media.

World Rugby said the referee selection committee did not consider Peyper for selection this weekend, adding that the veteran referee “recognizes that a picture of him with Wales fans, which appeared on social media after the Wales versus France quarterfinal, was inappropriate and he has apologized.”

Owens will handle the New Zealand-England match on Saturday, with French officials Romain Poite and Pascal Gauezere on the sidelines and South Africa’s Marius Jonker as the TMO.

Owens, 48, took charge of the New Zealand-Ireland quarterfinal last weekend and is at his fourth and final World Cup before retiring. Should Wales defeat South Africa in the other semifinal, Welshman Owens would likely be precluded from officiating in the final.

French referee Jerome Garces will take charge of Sunday’s semifinal between South Africa and Wales, with England’s Wayne Barnes and New Zealander Ben O’Keeffe as touchline officials and New Zealander Ben Skeen as TMO. Garces handled the England-Australia quarterfinal on Saturday.

“These are the best of the best, supported by a superb team, and we now look forward to compelling semifinals,” World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said.

Injury knocks Navidi out

Wales back rower Josh Navidi has been ruled out of the remainder of the Rugby World Cup after tearing his hamstring during the first half of Sunday’s quarterfinal victory over France, coach Warren Gatland said on Monday.

Gatland told a news conference that Navidi would be replaced with a back, rather than another forward, because of concerns over others in the squad. Chief among those is center Jonathan Davies, who was withdrawn from Sunday’s team at the last minute.

“He’s got a grade two (hamstring tear) and will be ruled out,” Gatland said of Navidi. “We have a process that we need to go through with World Rugby.

“Given we brought six back rowers and have five fit at the moment and have been a little bit short in numbers in the backs, then it will probably be a back who comes out as a replacement,” Gatland commented.

Gatland added that Navidi has been an influential player over the past 12 months but he expects both Davies and fellow midfield back Hadleigh Parkes, who played on Sunday with a broken hand, to be available for the semifinal.