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Ref got it wrong, but recriminations won't cure Scotland's winner's block

Ref got it wrong, but recriminations won't cure Scotland's winner's block

Craig Joubert won't be on the Christmas card list of the Scottish rugby fraternity any time soon.

Indeed, if it was up to Gavin Hastings or Kenny Logan, the only thing the South African referee should be sent through the post is his P45.

Joubert's controversial decision to award Australia a last-gasp penalty after he adjudged that the Scots were guilty of deliberate offside during the teams' epic World Cup clash on Sunday has split opinion like the independence referendum.

In an instant, it allowed Bernard Foley to kick the penalty which transformed a 34-32 deficit into a 35-34 win for the Wallabies, at which point the whistler did a passable impersonation of Usain Bolt sprinting towards the tunnel without even shaking the players' hands: something which Hastings described as "disgraceful".

Since then, a petition has been launched calling for Joubert to be banned from entering Scotland for the rest of his life. Logan has issued his own video denunciation. National coach, Vern Cotter, and captain, Greig Laidlaw, have both questioned why the decision wasn't referred upstairs to the TMO.

And do you know something? All this fury and bile, all these self-righteous protests and recriminations won't change the fact that Scotland lost a match which was theirs for the taking.

Inferno Productions

Hopefully, once Joubert stops being compared to a war criminal or Butcher Cumberland, a little sliver of cold-blooded analysis might enter the equation.

We might ask Cotter, for instance, why he took off Ross Ford and replaced the 95-times-capped hooker with Fraser Brown after just 54 minutes. Or did likewise with Jonny Gray, as the contest ebbed and flowed towards its dramatic denouement.

The Scottish line-out, which had hitherto been as solid as a rock, was suddenly as rickety as the House of Usher. One throw from Brown in his side's own 22 was eagerly swallowed up by the Australians and Tevita Kuridrani surged between John Hardie and Greig Laidlaw to push his side 32-24 in front.

Then the decision to go to the tail at the death, which sparked the intervention of Joubert, was another glaring error when the sensible option would have been to throw short, allow the pack to shove the ball up their jumpers and retain possession for the next 90 seconds or so.

Instead of that streetwise, clinical approach, one basic mistake led to another from the official.

And no amount of magic spells could undo what we had just witnessed.

For now, Scottish rugby's virulent strain of 'winner's block' - our inability to close out those tight games when it really matters - remains a monkey Cotter and Co are yet to shake from their backs.

If this was an isolated incident, it might almost be understandable.

But there have been so many kicks in the teeth, as the prelude to tears and tantrums from Scotland's rugby brethren over the years, that it can't be a coincidence.

At the 1991 World Cup, Gavin Hastings squandered a simple penalty against England to (at least potentially) put his country into the final of the tournament, to the despair of most of the crowd at Murrayfield. Rob Andrew wasn't so profligate with his ensuing drop goal. The Auld Enemy won 9-6.

Four years later, and it was France's Emile Ntamack, who scored in the dying seconds to thwart a Scottish triumph, and instead consigned them to a quarter-final with Jonah Lomu & Co, which ended predictably.

Four years after that and the Scots suffered agony again in the Five Nations Championship against England at Twickenham, as the precursor to howls of anguish about the nefarious behaviour of Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio, both of whom escaped punishment for dangerous play.

Plenty of people don't like Flower of Scotland as the national anthem. But it's surely preferable to 'We're the Kings of the Whingers'.

  (ITV)
via STV via STV

Brett Gosper, the chief executive of World Rugby, has confirmed there will be official scrutiny of Joubert's performance.

He said on Monday: “Mistakes do happen, but it’s a tough job. There’s a review taking place of all aspects, including his exit from the pitch.

"Maybe he was keen to get to the bathroom, who knows?”

Yet, while one suspects this investigation might lead to the authorities electing to let the South African spend more time with his biltong and bumper book of bad decisions, it won't have any affect whatsoever on Sunday's result.

And that is one of the most crucial aspects of the whole saga. Namely, that whatever the rights and wrongs in these situations, the final whistle should be drawn on the moans and groans.

In any case, the Scots have made significant improvements on the bedraggled bunch who collected the Wooden Spoon seven months ago.

They have a prodigious supply of talented youngsters, including Mark Bennett, Finn Russell, Matt Scott, Stuart Hogg, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, the Gray brothers, and lashings of bish and bosh in the front and back rows from the likes of WP Nel, John Hardie, Josh Strauss and the aforementioned Brown.

Indeed, it might be worth a modest flutter on them in advance of the 2016 Six Nations Championship, which starts with a visit to Edinburgh by England on February 6.

In the immediate future, effigies of Mr Joubert may replace Guy Fawkes on a few Scottish bonfires next month. But it would be more constructive to cease this incessant sniping at referees and officialdom.

The Scots had a famous win in their sights, but they couldn't complete the job. Accepting that lesson is more important than passing the buck.

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