TOKYO (Reuters) - A congratulatory “low five” shared between referee Ben O’Keeffe and a Fiji player during the Pacific islanders’ World Cup opener against the Wallabies has been criticised by Australian media and invited further scrutiny on officiating at the tournament.
After Fiji scored a try to move to a 21-12 lead in the second half of the match at Sapporo, video footage posted online shows New Zealander O’Keeffe extending his right hand as Fiji fullback Kini Murimurivalu jogs toward him.
Murimurivalu slaps O’Keeffe’s hand as he jogs past.
“Regardless of his intensions (sic) or the motivations behind the gesture, it just shouldn’t happen,” Australian broadcaster Fox Sports said on its website, describing the low five as a “cardinal sin”.
“The gesture leaves O’Keeffe open to come under attack.”
O’Keeffe, 30, was already under scrutiny for his officiating in Australia’s 39-21 win over Fiji, his World Cup debut.
He failed to sanction a high hit by Australia winger Reece Hodge on Peceli Yato that left the Fiji flanker concussed and unable to play out the game.
Hodge has since been cited for foul play and his World Cup hangs in the balance.
O’Keeffe’s low five was criticised in his native New Zealand, where Fairfax writer Marc Hinton remarked that the referee, being a qualified ophthalmologist, might have realised that the optics were “appalling”.
“There is simply no place in top professional sport for a referee to engage in any sort of celebratory actions with a player,” he wrote on the Stuff.co.nz website on Monday, describing the incident as a “brain snap”.
“O’Keeffe should be reminded of his obligations as a referee and the scrutiny he’s under at all times on the field.”
World Rugby were unable to provide immediate comment on Monday.
Last Tuesday, the governing body’s chief executive Brett Gosper said he felt that match officials were better prepared than at any previous World Cup.
Yet a slew of coaches and players were left bemused by the officiating during the opening weekend’s matches.
Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty