Referee stood down over 'inappropriate' Rugby World Cup photo

South African referee Jaco Peyper has paid a hefty price after a photograph emerged of him posing with Wales fans mimicking a key red-card incident from Sunday's World Cup quarter-final against France.

World Rugby says Peyper was not considered when selecting the match officials for this weekend's semi-finals.

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"Peyper recognises that a picture of him with Wales fans, which appeared on social media after Sunday's Wales versus France quarter-final, was inappropriate and he has apologised," said the governing body in a statement on Tuesday.

Jaco Peyper posing with Welsh fans. Image: Supplied

Wales beat France 20-19 after 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."

Vahaamahina quits international rugby

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.

Vahaamahina faces a World Rugby disciplinary hearing on Thursday but its consequences will be minimal after he announced his retirement from international rugby later on Monday.

Referee Jaco Peyper shows France's Sebastien Vahaamahina a red card. (Photo by David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images)

He revealed in a statement that along with ending his France career, coincidentally on his 28th birthday, he will have a long-planned operation on his arm.

He added: "It is the end of a cycle, a new page turns in my career. I am 28 and I can't wait to rebuild, physically and mentally, and come back even stronger."