TOKYO: Jaco Peyper was not considered for appointment for the Rugby World Cup semi-finals after posing with fans mimicking a key red-card incident in a quarter-final he refereed, World Rugby said on Tuesday.
As a South African, Peyper would not have been considered for the Wales-Springboks semi-final in any case but World Rugby have appointed Nigel Owens to officiate Saturday's England-New Zealand match.
Frenchman Jerome Garces will take charge of the second semi-final between the Welsh and South Africa at Yokohama on Sunday.
"World Rugby can confirm that the match officials selection committee did not consider Jaco Peyper for selection this weekend," World Rugby said in a statement.
"Peyper recognises that a picture of him with Wales fans, which appeared on social media after the Wales versus France quarter-final, was inappropriate and he has apologised," the statement said.
Wales beat France 20-19 on Sunday after Peyper sent off French 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 showed 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 dismissal.
French Rugby Federation Vice President Dr Serge Simon had led the outcry against the picture, writing "explanations will be necessary" on Twitter.
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.
No one disputed that Vahaamahina should have been sent for a clear red card offence and the lock announced his retirement from international rugby on Monday.
There was support for Peyper from Wales coach Warren Gatland on Monday.
"He's had his 50th cap and he's posing with fans," he said "The way things are and how PC everyone is, people like to make mountains out of molehills. That’s how I view it."
World Cup-winning former England coach Clive Woodward also defended the South African "100 percent".
"It's ludicrous that the so-called incident is being investigated in any way and for those in the French camp kicking off I would say you have infinitely more serious things to be considering," he wrote in Britain's Daily Mail.
"Such as your shambolic coaching and persistent ill-discipline on the pitch which for decades now has seen France underperform."
(Editing by Christian Schmollinger)