Rugby World Cup: Kiwi referee Ben O'Keeffe responds to criticism from French captain Antoine Dupont after quarter-final loss

Kiwi referee Ben O'Keeffe has spoken for the first time, after he was criticised by French captain Antoine Dupont following the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.

O'Keeffe, 34, took charge of the final quarter-final in France last weekend, and oversaw South Africa stunning France 29-28 to eliminate the hosts from their own tournament.

In the wake of that loss, France captain and arguably the best player in the world Antoine Dupont took aim at O'Keeffe's job with the whistle, unhappy with the Kiwi's performance on the biggest stage.

Antoine Dupont and Ben O'Keeffe.
Antoine Dupont and Ben O'Keeffe. Photo credit: Getty Images

"I don't want to be a bad loser and complain about the refereeing, but I'm not sure it was up to the mark tonight," the French skipper said.

Speaking exclusively to Newshub in Paris, O'Keeffe revealed there has been no further contact between himself and Dupont, but is content with his performance at the Stade de France.  

"It's obviously a very emotional time," O'Keeffe told Newshub. "I just try to respect that and give them space.

"Players and coaches are going to say things, whether you win or lose. I know that we're never perfect as referees, you definitely make errors in the game.

"But comments that players can make, they can do that after the game. In the heat of battle, things are said.

"I'm sure everything's fine, we've done my review and we'll reach out and get things back on track as well.

"But I understand the sentiment after a big match like that."

O'Keeffe's World Cup will continue this weekend, when he takes charge of the semi-final between South Africa and England.

Ben O'Keeffe shows a yellow card against South Africa.
Ben O'Keeffe shows a yellow card against South Africa. Photo credit: Getty Images

Only one other Kiwi, Paddy O'Brien, has previously officiated a World Cup semi-final, seeing O'Keeffe and assistants Paul Williams and Brendon Pickerill flying the New Zealand flag.  

However, it could also leave O'Keeffe in a difficult position, personally.

Should the All Blacks beat Argentina a day earlier, O'Keeffe's tournament will be over due to officials' neutrality ruling him out of refereeing New Zealand.

But asked over whether he wants to appear in a World Cup final over the All Blacks, O'Keeffe makes no bones about where his loyalties lie.  

"Definitely not," he said. "I definitely wear my All Blacks jersey when I'm supporting them.

"For me, these are the biggest games. Being at a World Cup is the biggest tournament I've ever been to.

"Being here is good enough for me. To be able to do a quarter-final last week, and a semi-final [this week] is fantastic. That's all I really need to do, it's a challenge that I love, and it's going to be the same challenge as a final.

Ben O'Keeffe at the Rugby World Cup.
Ben O'Keeffe at the Rugby World Cup. Photo credit: Getty Images

"I'm hoping New Zealand can do a really good job. If they're good enough to beat Argentina, I'll be there as a fan in the stands next week supporting them.

"I remember when we've won the World Cup before, it's such a good feeling at home when it happens. For me, I'm a New Zealander, I love rugby.

"That's exactly what I want to see."

Monday's (NZ time) quarter-final also saw O'Keeffe impress away from refereeing, when he addressed the French forward pack in their native tongue.

While bilingual refereeing is nothing new in test rugby, O'Keeffe says it's up to officials to be able to correctly communicate with all players in a manner they best understand in order to ensure integrity within the game at the highest level.

"I lived here when I was younger," he added. "I did an exchange when I was 16, so I learnt it then and built it up for games over the last few years.

"I don't speak Afrikaans, or the other languages in South Africa, so decided to go fully Kiwi accent English, just to be fair in that game.

"I did break into a little bit [of French] at the end as I was trying to control one of the scrums.

"I think it's important, you've got to pick your moments. It's something we should all be looking at as referees.

"There's a lot of different languages out there; Spanish, Georgian, Japanese. We should probably think about communicating in all those different languages in games.

"So it's something, first and foremost, I use to try and respect the players, and let them know what I'm seeing in a match so they can relay that to their teams.

"I think it's an important tool that we should all think about as referees."

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