Rugby: O'Brien rejects 'revelations' over touch judges' role

International Rugby Board referee manager Paddy O'Brien has rejected a claim that touch judges at the World Cup were told to focus only on their primary role of keeping touch, watching for foul play and kicks at goal.

United States coach Peter Thorburn told Radio Sport yesterday there had been a meeting between coaches, referees and touch judges in September to clarify roles.

Thorburn, a former North Harbour coach, said the pre-tournament directive said touch judges should focus foremost on touch, foul play and kicks at the goal.

It was reiterated verbally they would not be able to interfere on issues of forward passes, offside and crooked lineout throws.

O'Brien told the radio station today Thorburn had misinformed the public of New Zealand.

"Touch judges were told to call clear and obvious infringements.

"If they call offside, we want the referee to act on that call."

What the IRB didn't want were marginal calls called because that put confusion into the referees' minds.

" I think it's very mischievous of Peter. I am very disappointed that he has basically, in my view, lied to the public of New Zealand."

O'Brien said every touch judge at the World Cup knew exactly what the instructions were.

There has been a furore in New Zealand over the performance of English referee Wayne Barnes in the All Blacks' quarterfinal against France, particularly the sending off of Luke McAlister and a forward pass by the French in the lead up to the scoring of their match-winning try by Yannick Jauzion.

O'Brien said that forward pass had been "clear and obvious" but it was missed by the touch judges and the referee.

"That's a different thing altogether - it was poor touch judging and poor refereeing and we have addressed that."

O'Brien said he had watched every match at the World Cup and observed that there had been clear calling from touch judges for knock ons, offside and for forward passes.

"We expect them to tell the referee if it is clear and obvious. I refute Peter's comments completely."

Thorburn, who took exception to being called a "liar", told the station later he stood by his version of events at the September meeting.

There was a bit of "scurrying for cover", he said.

The touch judges' secondary role as described by O'Brien was not stated in the list of directives Thorburn had.

"They threw him (Wayne Barnes) in out of his depth and now they are trying to step back and direct their venom at other people rather than accept the responsibility," Thorburn said.

- NZPA

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