World Rugby chief confident no confusion around disciplinary issues at World Cup

World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin has expressed confidence that there would be no confusion surrounding any disciplinary issues at the Rugby World Cup.

England captain Owen Farrell will miss his country’s opening games of the tournament against Argentina and Japan after receiving a four-match ban for a dangerous tackle against World Cup warm-up opponents Wales.

World Rugby had appealed against the decision of a disciplinary panel to downgrade Farrell’s red card for a high tackle to yellow.

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But a furious outcry greeted the verdict that Farrell’s shoulder-led challenge to Taine Basham’s head, which caused the Wales flanker to fail a head injury assessment, was a sin-binning offence only.

The appeal committee found that the original hearing had not considered Farrell’s failure to wrap when attempting the tackle, which had formed a key part of the bunker review system’s analysis when upgrading from yellow to red – and on that basis, it was decided to hear the case afresh.

World Rugby
Scott Barrett of New Zealand is sent off by Referee Matthew Carley after a receiving a second yellow card during the Summer International match between New Zealand All Blacks v South Africa at Twickenham Stadium on August 25, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

“We have introduced the foul play bunker through Super Rugby and then into the summer games,” Gilpin said during the opening World Cup press conference at Roland Garros.

“There are always learnings from introducing things and there have been.

“The key difference for us coming into the tournament is that we get to control the process much more – everything from the way television pictures are shared with the relevant officials through to disciplinary process, obviously all under one set of controls.

“And that gives us the confidence I think that we can make sure it is not confusing for players and fans.”

The World Cup will begin in the wake of international players Rhys Webb and Elton Jantjies recording positive drugs tests.

Former Wales and current Biarritz scrum-half Webb, who retired from Test rugby in May, tested positive for a growth hormone, while South African fly-half Jantjies, who missed out on World Cup selection, tested positive for banned substance Clenbuterol.

In a general response, Gilpin added: “Does rugby have a doping problem? I think the evidence suggests no.

“We are not complacent at all and we are confident with the programmes that we have in place. We are working with the ALFD (French Anti-Doping Agency).

“We’ve taken really significant steps to make sure that every team in this tournament are tested in and out of competition and we’ve taken the step of re-testing every test that was taken in the 2019 World Cup with the latest anti-doping procedures and technology.”

Gilpin, meanwhile, believes the women’s World Cup in New Zealand last year provided positive images for the sport that should be repeated.

“I think what we saw in New Zealand, which is so important for rugby in the future, is players’ personalities not just being projected but being embraced by fans, by media,” he said.

“I think there is a lot that the men can learn from that and hopefully we can bring the personalities of all the great players that we’ve got in the game alive.

“There was also a huge amount of joy around that tournament, fans really getting behind every team.

“I am sure we will see that across the next seven weeks here in France. If the team welcome ceremonies we’ve seen in recent days are anything to go by, the teams can expect a pretty special welcome wherever they are.

“I am a bit of a veteran of these things now and I don’t think there has ever been a Rugby World Cup, ever been an event in rugby that has been as eagerly anticipated, with the excitement that is building not just here in France but around the world for this tournament.

“If the quality of rugby in the last couple of months is anything to go by, we’re going to see some very entertaining matches.”

Looking ahead to the tournament – which kicks off on Friday with a heavyweight clash between France and New Zealand in Paris – World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “We know that this nation will be a magnificent host.

“We have received incredible support from the highest office to the smallest villages. Never has a nation been so ready and so excited to host.

“We have a record number of international fans, some 600,000, and the stage is set. I think it is fair to say that the action will be compelling, spectacular and unpredictable.”

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