‘It was a mistake’ – Rugby World Cup referees criticise ‘rushed’ bunker system

Colin Newboult

Mathieu Raynal and Ben O'Keeffe during a TMO review in the Rugby World Cup

World Rugby have been criticised by their own match officials for bringing in the bunker system for the Rugby World Cup.

After trialling it during the World Rugby U20 Championship and the World Cup warm-up matches, it was introduced for the global tournament.

It received a mixed reception, with some backing the idea and others slamming the governing body for their choice to implement it.

How bunker was perceived

Those that praise the system believe that it has sped up the game, while its critics say that the accuracy of the decisions have decreased.

They also think that the referees should be making the final judgement on potentially game-defining calls.

And now, some of the officials have come out to give their thoughts on the scheme which caused so much debate during – and after – the World Cup.

Englishman Luke Pearce told the Times that it was “rushed through”, and French referee Mathieu Raynal was similarly critical.

“I think it was probably a mistake to put the bunker in at the last moment just before the World Cup without practising it and using it more,” Raynal told the Telegraph.

“That was a mistake. It was tough, too, because you send a situation to the bunker, they come back to you with a decision, and you cannot explain to the world why you made that decision.

“Before that, we could put words on the footage and could take people by the hands and they followed us until the final decision. That was interesting in terms of communication and explanation.

“Now, with the bunker, we cut this relationship with the people in front of their TVs or the people in the stands, which was difficult.”

The bunker was used several times during the Rugby World Cup final, with three incidents of foul play resulting in yellow cards for Shannon Frizell, Sam Cane and Siya Kolisi.

Cane’s was upgraded to red after being reviewed as the All Blacks played the entirety of the second half with 14 men.

Although the officiating team was generally praised by neutrals for their performances, frustrations have continued to mount over the bunker system since the conclusion of the World Cup.

World Rugby’s response

World Rugby was asked for a comment and they responded: “The bunker was born from outcomes at the 2022 ‘shape of the game’ meeting where coaches, match officials and administrators were unified in exploring ways to enhance accuracy of foul play decisions, while reducing game stoppage time.

“Change can be difficult to adjust to and we commend the match official team for embracing the concept in a professional manner.”

Given the complexities of rugby union, so much focus is placed on the officials around the decisions they give and the way they referee the matches.

That has led to increased attention and scrutiny, which has resulted in the fans’ anger being taken out on the officials.

World Cup final referee Wayne Barnes was subjected to death threats in the wake of the showpiece event, a year after he and his family was targeted by South African supporters following an end-of-year Test in 2022.

“It would be interesting to see a game without a TMO. After one mistake people would accept it, after two mistakes they’d start to complain and then after three mistakes they would ask for the TMO to be brought back,” Raynal added.

“We cannot fight against mistakes or avoid refereeing mistakes. We just need to accept it, and we’ll lose less energy fighting for zero mistakes in a game.

“In rugby we forgive player mistakes, forgive coaching mistakes, but we never forgive refereeing mistakes.”

READ MORE: Ian Foster disagrees with referee decision late on in the Rugby World Cup final