Cockerill escapes RFU charge over claims he abused referee

Leicester coach vindicated after insisting that he did not step out of line during heated Saints contest

It is almost precisely a year since the Rugby Football Union banned the Saracens coach Brendan Venter from attending Twickenham – and, indeed, from setting foot in the surrounding part of Greater London – on the day his side made their first appearance in a Premiership grand final. The decision seemed hopelessly vindictive at the time and has not improved with the passage of time. Happily, the governing body's disciplinarians have not made the same mistake in respect of the Leicester coach Richard Cockerill ahead of this weekend's showpiece meeting with... you guessed it, Saracens.

Cockerill, no one's idea of impartial bystander when his Tigers are out there on the field, was heavily criticised in the public prints following the semi-final victory over Northampton at Welford Road 10 days ago: a game that generated more than its fair share of controversy, thanks to the pugilistic excesses of the teenage centre Manu Tuilagi and the inability of the touch judge Robin Goodliffe to see things happening in front of his face.

Some media outlets accused Cockerill, together with his back-room sidekick Matt O'Connor, of using foul language and aiming at least some of it at Brian Campsall, a member of the union's elite refereeing unit, who was observing from a nearby seat.

Ever since – almost on a daily basis, in fact – Cockerill has protested his innocence. He was at it again yesterday, following a training session at the Leicester headquarters on the outskirts of town. "The criticism was completely unjustified," he pronounced, without uttering so much as a single four-letter word. "Do I get too involved at times? Without a doubt. But in this case I've been accused of things I didn't do. I suppose we could all just sit there, quiet and boring. That's not my style, as everyone knows, but I have no case to answer on this occasion."

He could not be sure at the time of speaking that he and O'Connor would not be summoned to Twickenham, dumped on the naughty step and punished – perhaps in the way Venter had been punished 12 months previously. However, Judge Jeff Blackett, the RFU's chief disciplinary officer, decided against pursuing the matter. Campsall, he said, had denied being abused by any Leicester official during 80 minutes of pandemonium at Welford Road. What was more, none of those who reported Cockerill's alleged excesses were willing to provide a witness statement or subject themselves to cross-examination at a formal hearing.

According to the judge's report, the worst Cockerill was heard to say was: "He's meant to be a Test referee, in the biggest match of the season. It's not bloody good enough. Yellow card." This hardly makes him the sporting version of Malcolm Tucker. Ruder things have been said in church.

"Rugby is an emotional game and those involved often express their emotions loudly," the judge said. "They must do so within the core values of the game... and any coach who abuses match officials will be dealt with severely. But I cannot take action in relation to allegations that are denied unless I have evidence that will stand up to scrutiny. In this case, there is none."

England have named 11 uncapped players, including the Exeter flanker Tom Johnson and the young Gloucester centre Henry Trinder, in a 24-man squad for the annual meeting with the Barbarians at Twickenham on Sunday. The majority have no realistic chance of making the cut for the World Cup in New Zealand, but a few – the Bath-bound lock Dave Attwood and the Northampton-bound prop Paul Doran-Jones – will benefit from big performances.


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