(Adds Gatland quotes, dateline)
TOKYO, Oct 21 (Reuters) - South African referee Jaco Peyper has landed himself in hot water with French rugby fans by appearing to pose for a picture with a group of Welsh supporters with a raised elbow, mimicking a key incident in the close-fought match.
Wales beat France 20-19 in a dramatic rugby World Cup quarter-final on Sunday and Peyper, who officiated the game, sent off France lock Sebastien Vahaamahina for elbowing Aaron Wainwright in the face when France were leading 19-10.
A picture being circulated on social media appears to show Peyper in the middle of a group of Welsh fans, raising his elbow to seemingly mimic the incident that led to Vahaamahina’s sending off.
Wales coach Warren Gatland, however, said the incident had been blown out of proportion.
“I’ve seen that,” Gatland told reporters in Tokyo after the side arrived from Oita on Monday afternoon.
“I just think he has had his 50th cap and is posing with a few fans and making a bit of a joke of the incident of the game.
“How people interpret that is up to them.
“Obviously the way things are and how PC (politically correct) everyone is, people like to make mountains out of molehills and that’s how I make of the situation at the moment.”
French fans, however, were less than happy with the picture.
“As much as Vahaamahina deserves his red card, Jaco Peyper deserves to stop officiating in the World Cup after that. He can celebrate his match but this joke is unworthy of a referee,” one fan wrote on Twitter.
“Card fully justified, but after this photo I do wonder about the impartiality of the man in black,” another one added.
Wales rallied to win after the red card, setting up a semi-final with South Africa.
Vahaamahina is scheduled to attend an independent judicial committee hearing into his sending off on Thursday. (Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; editing by Richard Pullin and Christian Radnedge)