Cape Town – A Facebook petition against referee Romain Poite has gone viral, with nearly 40 000 people “liking” the page within 24 hours.
Poite presided over the Springboks’ clash against the All Blacks in Auckland on Saturday, drawing the ire of South African fans for a number of dodgy calls which disadvantaged the Springboks.
Most contentiously, Poite gave hooker Bismarck du Plessis two yellow cards (amounting to a red card and a sending off).
Replays, however, show that Du Plessis had used his arms in a tackle which Poite deemed to be illegal. Du Plessis received his first yellow card for this offence.
“What a disgraceful yellow card for Du Plessis. Great tackle,” tweeted former Wales flyhalf Jonathan Davies.
In a statement yesterday, the International Rugby Board confirmed that it had been “incorrect” for Poite to have issued the first yellow card. The red card has since been rescinded.
“Just as players and coaches make mistakes, the decision was an unfortunate case of human error by the match officials, who, having reviewed the match, fully recognise and accept they made a mistake in the application of the law,” the IRB said.
A video of former Bok coach Nick Mallett lashing out at Poite was also trending online. Mallett said that the entire match had been ruined by poor refereeing decisions: “This was an absolute disgrace. A match of this quality deserved to have 15 players on the field.”
Mallett was hailed for his “bravery” and backed up by thousands of fans who commented on the site. Conspiracy theorists, who suggested that the game had been fixed, accounted for a large portion of the comments.
On Twitter, #StopPoite was also gaining traction.
The title of the Facebook page is “Petition To Stop Romain Poite Ever Reffing A Rugby Game Again”. It is based on a the massively successful “Petition To Stop Bryce Lawrence Ever Reffing A Rugby Game Again” – a Facebook page created by South African-born London resident Marky Warren in 2011.
Warren did not respond to requests for an interview with the Cape Argus, yet his promotion of the page via his personal Twitter account suggests he may have created the petition.
Lawrence fell foul of South African fans in 2011 for decisions he made during the Springboks’ World Cup semi-final loss to Australia.
Last year, he resigned as a referee, citing the Facebook page, which still exists and has around 76 000 likes, as having played a significant role in his decision to throw in the towel.
“It got pretty bad,” Lawrence said.
“Not really threats to my family as such, but it was mainly aimed at me through social media. On Facebook they launched a ‘get rid of Bryce Lawrence’ site and it was pretty nasty. That was absolutely the reason for my career change.”
Lawrence said that in the months following the semi-final, Sanzar made special arrangements to ensure that he was not drawn to officiate a game on South African soil.
The Cape Argus could not establish whether Poite was scheduled to officiate a game in South Africa in the near future.