There was always going to be a heartbreaker in these quarter-finals and it came at fulltime in the final match of the weekend.

The Scots, long regarded as the whipping boys of the Six Nations, had been handed the rather odious task of restoring some Northern Hemisphere pride to these World Cup proceedings following the exit of the hosts, England, along with Wales, France and Ireland. Big ask.

There is a lot to be said for the wonderfully resilient Scottish rugby supporter, but pinning your hopes to a team that heretofore had failed to qualify for a World Cup semifinal for 24 years and which had, at this tournament, been outclassed by South Africa and almost run down by Samoa, would seem to be asking to be left disappointed.

I sat down to watch the game with former Wallabies enforcer Owen Finnegan, who had turned to our group before the match and said, "the problem with Scotland is you can score five tries against them but then you look at the scoreboard and they are still in the game".


Never a more prescient statement has been made at 3am in a casino sports bar.

Scotland found a way to stay in the game, even when Sean Maitland was sent to the bin, even while Australia racked up the tries. And then, just when it seemed the Wallabies could shut this one down and get on to the next assignment, the Scots hit the front. Where they stayed, until Craig Joubert awarded a penalty to Australia and Bernard Foley kicked the winning goal.

But that's not really what this is about.

What happened next is more important than what happened before, because what happened next is this: Joubert, one of the game's most competent officials, and a very good man besides, was subjected to a tirade of abuse as vindictive as it was ignorant. What happened next, in other words, was nothing new. We've been here with Wayne Barnes, and we've been here with Bryce Lawrence.

It is the all-too familiar refrain of the Rugby World Cup. And it has to stop. In this age of Twitter hot takes and instant derision, it is no surprise that aggrieved Scottish fans reached for their smartphones and took aim at the man in the middle - a man who, for the first time I can remember, left the field immediately after the final whistle.

Joubert is not a man who would normally leave the field in a hurry. That he did does not suggest he was ashamed of the call he made. It says the bloke was obviously worried about the crowd response to it, and to him. Given the subsequent overreaction by fans and pundits alike, that worry was arguably a well-founded one.

Where was the TMO? They yelled through the posts. Gavin Hastings, the gentleman giant of the Scottish game, was incensed and called for Joubert's whistle. Matt Dawson, neither a giant nor a gentleman of the English game, sensed an opportunity for a headline and called for the same with a tweet that began, "Craig Joubert you are a disgrace".

This is the man who gave the world the "Hakarena". I guess he's an expert in disgraceful.


World Rugby yesterday issued a statement to say Joubert got the decision wrong; that Joubert, a man who had a millisecond to make a judgment call on a massive play, and who duly made that call, had, with the benefit of endless replays watched by a full panel of World Rugby referee selectors, got the decision wrong.

That selection panel is chaired by Scotsman John Jeffrey, a former teammate of the most vocal of Joubert's critics in the immediate wake of Scotland's defeat, Hastings. Of course, that's probably just a coincidence.

That World Rugby felt compelled to make this statement - an almost unprecedented occurrence - but felt no need to call for calm from Scottish fans, and from others who quickly jumped on the first train bound for the lynching of Joubert, strikes me as a clearcut case of the tail wagging the dog.

Scotland lost a rugby game and it came down to a refereeing decision. That's sad. But, for the third consecutive World Cup, a referee has been subjected to the worst kind of abuse while the panel that makes those selections panders to the abusers.

That, I'm afraid, is heartbreaking.