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Sports / Rugby

The biggest controversies in Rugby World Cup history

Posted 13 Jul 2023

The Rugby World Cup has witnessed numerous memorable moments throughout its history, but controversies have also been an inevitable part of the tournament. 

We delve deeper in to five of the most controversial moments in the Rugby World Cup so far. 

Controversial Penalty Decision Casts Shadow over Scotland's 2015 World Cup Campaign

During the 2015 World Cup, a significant controversy arose when Scottish prop Jon Welch was penalised by South African referee Craig Joubert for accidental offside. However, video replays clearly indicated that the ball had been knocked backwards by Australian Nick Phipps. This disputed decision allowed Bernard Foley to secure a last-minute penalty, resulting in a heart-breaking 35-34 loss for Scotland. 

Gavin Hastings, a Scottish rugby legend, condemned the decision as a 'disgrace.' Joubert's quick departure from the field only fuelled further criticism. As a consequence, he was excluded from refereeing in the semi-finals, and World Rugby later acknowledged the gravity of the mistake.

Challenges and Controversies Plague England's Turbulent Tour of New Zealand in 2011

The England rugby team faced numerous challenges during their tour in New Zealand in 2011. A strained relationship between coach Martin Johnson and the media fostered a siege mentality within the team. Unfortunately, England's performance on the field faltered, leading to a disappointing quarter-final exit against France. The team's troubles deepened during the pool stages when several squad members, including Dylan Hartley and Chris Ashton, were caught participating in dwarf tossing at a bar in Queenstown called Altitude. 

Matters worsened when captain Mike Tindall, who was married to Zara Phillips (15th in line to the throne), was recorded having an intimate conversation with another woman on closed-circuit television. These incidents sparked intense tabloid scrutiny. To cap off the tour filled with embarrassment, centre Manu Tuilagi exacerbated the situation by jumping off an Auckland ferry in his underwear, citing immaturity as his justification.

Paddy Power's Provocative Stunt Stirs Controversy at the 2007 Rugby World Cup

During the 2007 Rugby World Cup, bookmaker Paddy Power sought to generate attention through their advertising campaign, known for its irreverent and provocative nature. They provided financial support to the financially struggling Tongan rugby team with a condition: the players had to dye their hair green before their high-profile match against England in Paris. 

As an additional twist, Paddy Power managed to persuade Tonga's sizable centre, Epi Taione, to legally change his name to Paddy Power through deed poll. This promotional manoeuvre garnered significant displeasure from World Rugby, resulting in a demand for Tonga to remove the green hair colour and a subsequent fine for Taione. In response, Paddy Power distributed hundreds of green wigs to Tongan fans. Despite their efforts, Tonga suffered a 36-20 defeat to England.

Referee Controversy Haunts Wayne Barnes in 2007 World Cup Clash

In 2007, Wayne Barnes, a highly regarded referee, faced widespread criticism from New Zealanders for failing to notice a forward pass from Freddie Michalak that directly led to Yannick Jauzion's match-winning try. Following the match, both captain Richie McCaw and coach Sir Graham Henry expressed their disapproval of Barnes' performance. 

The sinbinning of Luke McAlister also drew significant criticism. In subsequent interviews, Barnes admitted that the backlash deeply affected him.

Controversial Team-Building Tactics at Kamp Staaldraad during the 2003 World Cup

In preparation for the 2003 World Cup, South Africa's coach, Rudolph Straeuli, devised a rather unconventional strategy to motivate his players. He organised a trip to a military facility known as Kamp Staaldraad (Camp Barbed Wire) to foster team unity under challenging circumstances. Players were subjected to various discomforts, such as being stripped naked, crammed into foxholes, doused with cold water, and forced to listen to the Haka and the God Save Our Queen through loudspeakers. 

Additional activities included inflating rugby balls in freezing water during the night. The situation deteriorated further as players were coerced at gunpoint to continue despite their desire to surrender. They were then forced to crawl naked across gravel, sleep in the bush, and instructed to kill chickens. The Springboks subsequently suffered a heavy defeat in the quarterfinals against New Zealand, and Straeuli resigned soon after.

With the RWC 2023 kicking off in France this September, now is your chance to grab tickets!

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