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SPORTS | 23-09-2019 14:34

Pumas coach Ledesma sorry for 'small nation' jibe at referee

Ledesma launched a broadside at Australia match official Angus Gardner after loss to Frnance, complaining his side was being refereed like a "small nation" – comments that drew fire even in the local media.

Argentina head coach Mario Ledesma apologised on Monday for his heat-of-the-moment criticism of the referee after his side lost to France 23-21 in agonising last-minute fashion at the weekend.

Ledesma launched a broadside at Australia match official Angus Gardner in his post-match interview, complaining his side was being refereed like a "small nation" – comments that drew fire even in the local media.

A contrite Ledesma appeared before reporters on Monday to say: "If I am here, it is to apologise to the people I may have offended – and to the values of rugby."

"It wasn't my intention. I am convinced that I am still a good ambassador for those values and those of my family and the fact anyone could have doubted that... saddens me a bit," added Ledesma.

Ledesma was incensed after Gardner refused to award his side a last-gasp ruck penalty in the nailbiting Pool C loss that left Los Pumas contemplating an early exit from the 2019 World Cup. But he acknowledged he had misspoken. 

"Speaking about 'small nations' or words to that effect was uncalled-for. And when you make a mistake, you have to apologise. That seems the most logical thing to me," he added. 

He said he had also sent an official letter to World Rugby about the incident, which earned him a sharp rebuke back home.

La Nación said that the coach had "forgotten the fundamentals of rugby" and had sent a "dangerous and harmful message."

"In any club in Argentina, boys learn that 'the referee is always right'," said the paper.

Ledesma stressed he had no reason to call into question the impartiality or integrity of Gardner, whom he said he knew from his team as assistant coach to Wallabies' Michael Cheika.

His words came from "frustration at losing a match it was possible to win," said Ledesma, adding: "I do not want people to think that we lost because of the referee."

To progress beyond the pool stages, Argentina will in all likelihood need to beat England, as well as the less highly regarded teams in the pool, Tonga and the United States.

– AFP

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