'What a disgrace': Rugby World Cup referee in 'disturbing' photo controversy

A controversial image of Rugby World Cup referee Jaco Peyper joking with Welsh fans about the red card he gave to France’s Sebastien Vahaamahina has been labelled “embarrassing” and “unimaginable”.

The South African referee was at the centre of the biggest talking point of Wales' 20-19 quarter-final triumph against France.

The whistleblower gave French lock Vahaamahina the first red card of the knockout stages since 2011 for an incident that's been described as savage and reckless.

Vahaamahina's sending-off against on Sunday will go down as one of the most mindless acts of violence in the 32-year history of the competition.

What possessed him to swing his right elbow flush into the face of Wales flanker Aaron Wainwright at a 49th-minute maul is anyone's guess.

It probably cost his team a place in the semi-finals.

Vahaamahina clasped his hands together in a praying gesture and nodded his head toward Peyper after the South African referee brandished the red card.

There wasn't much debate around whether Vahaamahina should have been sent off, such was the obvious nature of the foul.

However, Peyper did himself absolutely no favours after appearing to mock the French forward after the match, while posing with a group of Welsh supporters.

Referee Jaco Peyper recreated the red card incident with Welsh fans after the match. Pic: Getty/Twitter

In a photo that French outlet actu.fr labelled "embarrassing" and "unimaginable," Peyper can be seen recreating the elbowing incident with a group of Wales fans.

One fan tweeted that the photo was: “Shameful. Like his performance."

Another remarked: “If this photo is not a fake, it is particularly disturbing”.

The extraordinary image led to an outpouring of anger on social media.

Red card proves turning point for French

The French were leading 19-10 in the 49th minute, and playing their best rugby not just of the tournament but maybe this year, when Vahaamahina was sent off.

They went on to lose agonisingly, 20-19 , bringing to an end the international coaching career of Jacques Brunel.

He departs with 13 losses in 23 matches as France coach, and confusion about where exactly his team stands in the world rugby's pecking order.

Les Tricolores remain frustratingly inconsistent. The team struggled to see off Tonga in the pool stage, then played so well against Wales - for about 50 minutes anyway - a few weeks later.

Their first-half performance in the quarter-final was excellent and contained one of the tries of the tournament, an 80-meter move that started with a burst through the line from Virimi Vakatawa outside his own 22 and finished with Charles Ollivon racing over the line between the posts.

Sebastien Vahaamahina was sent off when France were leading the Welsh. Pic: Getty

Gatland said he was thrilled that his team was only nine points behind at halftime.

"I want to stress the quality of our team, which showed courage ... and lots of panache," Brunel said.

Brunel will be replaced by former France captain Fabien Galthie and said he bequeaths a young team "with all the potential" going into the four-year cycle for the 2023 World Cup, held in France.

"We need time to build up a team that will have results for confidence, and that is probably what we lacked," Brunel said.

"But they will keep on learning and it will make them mature. There is a brighter future for this team."

With agencies