Ireland boss Schmidt shines spotlight on officials ahead of Japan clash

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Joe Schmidt has heaped the pressure on referee Angus Gardner ahead of Ireland’s World Cup clash with hosts Japan on Saturday.

Head coach Schmidt claimed the last time Gardner refereed Ireland proved “incredibly frustrating”, intimating his side were unduly punished during March’s 25-7 Six Nations loss to Wales in Cardiff that sealed the hosts’ Grand Slam.

Japan have spent the week claiming Cian Healy angles in illegally at the scrum, with not only prop Yusuke Kizu calling out their opponents but also head coach Jamie Joseph backing the Brave Blossoms’ suspicion.

Ireland Team Announcement – Carton House
Joe Schmidt has put the focus on refereeing ahead of Saturday’s World Cup clash with Japan (Brian Lawless/PA)

“Obviously last time we had Angus (Gardner) it wasn’t great for us,” said Schmidt.

“We didn’t play particularly well but we didn’t feel we got a lot of the rub of the green from Angus either.

“I think if you look back at the scrum, we actually went straight through the middle of the Welsh scrum to get a turnover ball very early in the game.

“And then when they ran around the corner we got no receipt (of penalties) from that and they were given penalty rewards, which was incredibly frustrating.”

Schmidt rarely offers candid views on referees other than to stress Ireland’s hard graft to concede as few penalties as possible, which all feeds into his intense demands for accuracy from his players.

Ireland fell foul of the penalty count in Saturday’s comprehensive 27-3 win over Scotland in the Pool A opener in Yokohama, where Wayne Barnes took the whistle.

Schmidt has lamented what he considers heavy punishment in that contest too, especially given his side’s near total control of proceedings.

World Rugby this week issued a stinging statement hitting out at the standard of World Cup refereeing, with the officials having failed to issue the correct punishments for a string of big incidents.

Australia’s Reece Hodge has since been handed a three-week ban after a disciplinary hearing for a head-high shot on Peceli Yato, that tackle leaving the Fiji star concussed and out of the match.

Samoa centre Rey Lee-Lo and hooker Motu Matu’u face disciplinary hearings too for high shots that only yielded yellow cards in their win over Russia.

In the wake of the World Rugby statement, however, Schmidt now expects all the officials to raise their game.

Add the context of him raising previous frustrations with Saturday’s referee Gardner and this is Schmidt leaving the Australian official on notice that his performance this weekend will be under greater scrutiny than perhaps ever before.

Asked if Sunday’s penalty count against Scotland proved a consternation, Schmidt said: “Yes, it was annoying and surprising considering that a lot of what we did we felt we were kind of on top in that game.

“I think that the officials are going to be as nailed on as they possibly can be and Angus is no different from any other official this weekend.

Ireland v Scotland – Pool A – 2019 Rugby World Cup – International Stadium Yokohama
Schmidt expects World Cup referees to be in sharp focus this weekend (Ashley Western/PA)

“We saw a couple of citings from the game in our pool on Tuesday evening where the officials as a team decided they were yellow cards and then they were cited later as red cards. So nobody is really operating in isolation now.

“The referee is very much reliant on his assistant referees and his Television Match Officials (TMOs) to be a team of four.

“And so I think Angus will be leading that team but it will certainly be a team effort from the officials.

“Obviously they’ve been given a stir up from World Rugby and I know when these players that I work with get a stir up, they come out and they’re very focused the next outing.

“So we’d have confidence that the officials are going to be good this weekend across the board.”

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