October 21, 2019 / 3:22 AM / a month ago

French official says World Cup ref's picture with Wales fans is shocking

TOKYO (Reuters) - A leading French rugby official has demanded “explanations” after a photograph emerged of referee Jaco Peyper appearing to pose with Wales fans mimicking a key red-card incident from Sunday’s World Cup quarter-final.

Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup 2019 - Quarter Final - Wales v France - Oita Stadium, Oita, Japan - October 20, 2019 France head coach Jacques Brunel looks on during the warm up before the match REUTERS/Peter Cziborra

Wales beat France 20-19 after South African Peyper sent off France lock Sebastien Vahaamahina for elbowing Aaron Wainwright in the face when France were leading 19-10 early in the second half.

A picture being circulated on social media appears to show a smiling Peyper in the middle of a group of celebrating Welsh fans, raising his elbow to seemingly mimic the violent incident that led to Vahaamahina’s sending off.

French Rugby Federation vice president Dr Serge Simon said on Twitter: “This photo, if it is true, is shocking and explanations will be necessary.”

World Rugby issued a statement saying it was aware of the picture but that it would be “inappropriate to comment further while we are establishing the facts.”

It’s not an unusual occurrence for match officials to mix socially with fans after rugby internationals. However, under tournament rules referees are not allowed to talk to the media.

The head coaches from both teams involved agreed it had been the correct decision to send off Vahaamahina, who had earlier scored France’s first try in the match.

Wales’ Warren Gatland said on Monday he did not consider the picture to be a major issue. “He’s had his 50th cap and he’s posing with fans,” he said of the widely-respected ref.

“The way things are and how PC everyone is, people like to make mountains out of molehills. That’s how I view it.”

Vahaamahina is scheduled to attend an independent judicial committee hearing into his sending off on Thursday.

Reporting by Simon Jennings and Mitch Phillips, editing by Christian Radnedge

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