Rugby: O'Brien exits top referee job

Paddy O'Brien. Photo / Simon Baker
Paddy O'Brien. Photo / Simon Baker

Graham Henry's claims in his latest book about the possibility of match-fixing following the All Blacks' quarter-final exit at the 2007 Rugby World Cup provoked plenty of critical comment - and now the Kiwi head of the world's referees, Paddy O'Brien, has moved on.

The two events are unrelated, though the referee at the centre of the dispute, Wayne Barnes, was strongly defended by O'Brien. He declined to comment on Henry's musings - although plenty of others have charged the former All Black coach with everything from sour grapes to marketing ploys.

However, the International Rugby Board referees are back in the hands of the Northern Hemisphere after Frenchman Joel Jutge was appointed as O'Brien's replacement.

The New Zealander is set for a new role working with sevens officials before the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Jutge will also sit on the IRB's referee selection panel, alongside former Scotland flanker John Jeffrey and former international referees Lyndon Bray, Tappe Henning, Donal Courtney and Clayton Thomas.

The body meets four times a year to to make selections for the next international window with all performances reviewed as part of the next round of international selections.

Jutge took the whistle for 35 tests between 1996 and 2007, including two Rugby World Cups, before retiring in 2009. Since then he has served as referee manager for the Fédération Fran�aise de Rugby (FFR), where he has introduced a number of new French referees to international rugby.

Jutge's priority will be the continued promotion of consistency and performance towards delivering the best available panel for Rugby World Cup 2015 while applying the 'best-for-best' principle in the selection of referees for each international window.

New Zealander Bob Francis, a former test referee and mayor of Masterton, was formerly the head of referee appointments and selected Barnes to referee the match at Cardiff. He said: "The suggestion of match fixing is a disgrace" and added Henry's comments damaged his credibility and reputation.

"I think his comments will be ridiculed, without doubt. The saddest part really is that Graham Henry bounced back from 2007 and did so well. He won the World Cup and was knighted and so he left on a great note. I think this has taken some gloss off that."

Henry explained the context of his suspicions, saying he asked if the authorities had systems in place to monitor sports betting at the time.

In the book, he reveals how much he was seething and became physically sick after reviewing video of the match in his hotel room. He says Barnes missed 40 penalties. He told TVNZ's Sunday programme: "The All Blacks didn't get a penalty for the last 60 minutes of the game... and were on attack for 70 per cent of that time. Now that's impossible - but it wasn't impossible on that particular day.

"I asked the Rugby Union and the international board if there was any law or any system they used to look at bizarre games and look at the possibility of sports betting."

Asked if the officials were cheating or were incompetent, Henry said: "I guess that's why you have a system of analysing those things. If you had a system of analysing, maybe you would come to a result and I could answer that question."

- Agencies

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