World Rugby officially responds to ‘privately acknowledged’ World Cup final error

Colin Newboult
Aaron Smith's disallowed try for the All Blacks in the 2023 Rugby World Cup final.

Aaron Smith's disallowed try for the All Blacks in the 2023 Rugby World Cup final.

World Rugby have released a statement in the wake of a report which claimed the governing body admitted to an officiating error that was made in the Rugby World Cup final.

World Rugby have “privately acknowledged” that Aaron Smith’s try against the Springboks should have stood, according to a New Zealand website.

Smith touched down for the All Blacks in the 54th minute after a superb break from half-back partner Richie Mo’unga, but it was brought back for an earlier Ardie Savea knock-on.

What the laws say

Although the officials were correct that Savea had indeed lost the ball forward, the laws prevent them from intervening for knock-ons if play has gone past two phases.

When Mo’unga made the decisive break, which led to his team-mate going over, New Zealand had gone through four phases.

“World Rugby has privately acknowledged to the All Blacks that the ruling out of Aaron Smith’s try in the final was, in fact, outside the rules, but is refusing to publicly acknowledge that,” Stuff stated.

World Rugby have since commented following that report, where they backed the officials who took charge of the World Cup final.

However, they did not deny the contents of Stuff’s initial claims, only saying that they do “not publicly comment on match official decisions.”

“We stand by our outstanding match official team, who (are) performing one of the hardest jobs in professional sport to an exceptional standard,” the statement read.

“As we have seen in recent months, sadly, criticism of match officials can have wide-ranging consequences, including online hate and threats, and we must be mindful of such a human impact.”


After ruling out the score, referee Wayne Barnes went back for an earlier South Africa infringement at the lineout.

A few minutes later, the All Blacks eventually got their try to reduce the arrears, but the Springboks would eventually win the match 12-11, securing their fourth world title.

The general consensus was that the officials handled the showpiece event well, but that did not stop Barnes from receiving death threats.

He subsequently announced his retirement from refereeing and pledged to help the younger officials coming through, as well as combating online abuse.

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