Australians gang up against England's extra man

Rugby World Cup: Woodward likely to be summoned by tribunal as touchline controversy in Samoa game rumbles on
Click to follow

It would be wrong to suggest that the Great England Substitution Scandal has split Australia down the middle.

It would be wrong to suggest that the Great England Substitution Scandal has split Australia down the middle.

Ninety-nine per cent of the Wallaby tribe, including every sports television pundit in the land, believe the World Cup organisers should throw the book at Clive Woodward and company for their touchline antics at the end of the epic victory over Samoa in Melbourne on Sunday.

The remaining one per cent are currently out of the country and missed the incident. Had they seen it, they would have gone with the majority.

The Aussies may yet get their way. Fraser Neill, the tournament director, is reviewing submissions from the match commissioner and one of the pitch-side officials, as well as a formal deposition compiled by Richard Smith - the barrister acting as England's legal specialist here - and will decide today whether England are to be charged with breaching the competition's disciplinary code.

Woodward and company have virtually resigned themselves to being hauled before a tribunal. If their worst fears are confirmed, senior members of the England management will face an inconvenient trip to Sydney later this week.

There is also a possibility that Steve Walsh, the highly regarded referee from New Zealand, will have to answer for his alleged actions during the chaotic conclusion to the game, in which he served as a touchline official. England have accused him of verbally abusing one of their back-room staff, the fitness co-ordinator Dave Reddin, during an argument after the final whistle.

Neill is considering this issue, together with the facts surrounding Dan Luger's illicit, if brief, appearance - a cameo that resulted in England playing with 16 people on the pitch.

Not for the first time in World Cup history, we have a mess on our hands. Disciplinary issues were the bane of the 1999 tournament, and there was an almighty ruckus over the 1995 semi-final between South Africa and France in Durban, which was delayed interminably while three women with mops attempted to clear a waterlogged playing surface.

At least this is new. Rugby has been a 15-a-side game since time immemorial, so England's achievement in flouting that particular rule is genuinely astounding, not least because the extra man had not been granted permission to take the field in the first place.

Woodward, who was directing his team's substitution policy by radio link from a seat in the stand, was suitably contrite yesterday.

"It was an error, I can assure you," he said. "We are co-operating fully with the investigation and doing our utmost to give the tournament officials all the information they need. We were asked to fill in various bits of paper and get statements from the people involved. That is exactly what we've done.

"Clearly, we would like to get it sorted out by this weekend, when the last Pool C games take place."

One group who will not be involved in the inquiry are the Samoans, who were in full shoulder-shrugging mode yesterday.

"We're not unhappy, and we won't be taking it further," confirmed John Boe, who inspired the islanders to one of their mighty uprisings at the weekend. "I think the World Cup is a lot bigger than one minor incident like this."

Boe's assistant, the great former All Black Michael Jones, was equally dismissive. "Mistakes happen," he said. "We don't want something like this to blight what was a wonderful game of rugby."

Had the Samoans been seriously disadvantaged by Luger's ridiculous intervention - half a tackle, one ruck, one penalty conceded - they might have sang a different tune.

They were attacking down England's right flank when the incident occurred, and would have claimed a bonus point had they scored.

However, the standings in the Pool C table render that an irrelevance. If the Samoans draw with South Africa in Brisbane on Saturday night, they will definitely qualify for the quarter-finals.

England are preparing themselves for some stern words of censure and a possible fine.

The docking of points is considered unlikely, despite the fact that the whole of the host nation would love to see them stripped of everything bar their jockstraps.