An errant elbow has cost one person a place in the Rugby World Cup semifinal.
No, not French lock Sebastien Vahaamahina, who slammed his elbow into the face of Wales’ Aaron Wainwright in a dramatic 20-19 quarterfinal clash, but the man who sent him off the park.
Posing for a photo with fans after the match, Peyper pretended to elbow a Welsh supporter in the face while sporting a broad smile. The image was widely shared on social media.
“World Rugby can confirm that the match officials selection committee did not consider Jaco Peyper for selection this weekend,” the sport’s governing body said in a statement.
“Peyper recognized 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.”
Serge Simon, deputy head of the French Rugby Federation, write on Twitter that the photo is “shocking and explanations are needed.”
But Wales coach Warren Gatland, whose side is gearing up for a semifinal showdown against Peyper’s native South Africa, had a more measured response.
“I just think he’s had his 50th cap, he’s posing with a few fans and making a bit of a joke about the incident,” Gatland told reporters.
“How people interpret that is up to them. The way things are and how ‘PC’ (politically correct) people are, people make mountains out of molehills, that’s how I view the situation at the moment.”
Vahaamahina’s recklessness was his last act in French colors as the 28-year-old retired from international rugby after the match having played 46 tests.
Before the incident on 49 minutes, France was leading Wales 19-10 but was forced to go on the defensive for the rest of the game with a man dismissed. The players held on until six minutes from time when Wales scored the decisive try.
Referees have attracted attention throughout the World Cup. New Zealand’s Ben O’Keeffe courted controversy when he appeared to offer a low-five to Fiji’s fullback Kini Murimurivalu after his side scored a try against Australia. At the time Fiji was leading 21-12.
During the group stages, World Rugby issued a rebuke of the standard of refereeing at the tournament.
“Following the usual review of matches, the match officials team recognize that performances over the opening weekend were not consistently of standards set by World Rugby and themselves,” World Rugby said, though it concluded that it was confident of the “highest standards of officiating moving forward.”
In place of Peyper, the two semifinals will be officiated by Welshman Nigel Owens – who will take charge of Saturday’s England versus New Zealand clash – and France’s Jerome Garces – who will oversee Sunday’s battle between Wales and South Africa.
World Rugby said the selection was “based on merit after a review of performances by World Rugby’s match officials selection committee.”