If the first skirmishes in the build-up are anything to go by then Brendan Venter's disciplinary hearing could be an uglier confrontation than any breakdown. Yesterday Saracens furiously hit back after their director of rugby was accused by the Rugby Football Union of questioning the integrity of the referee, David Rose.
Venter had doubtless been expecting a charge of "conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game" ever since his tirade in the wake of the defeat against Leicester on Saturday. Indeed, he had probably already booked his return ticket for the hearing which will take place a week next Tuesday.
But what he definitely would not have been anticipating was for the RFU to be so damningly specific when issuing its disrepute indictment. The disciplinarians have surely shown how determined they are to throw the book at the South African. A month's match-day contact ban seems certain.
"The alleged offence is that Brendan Venter whilst taking part in a BBC interview criticised or implied criticism by publicly questioning the integrity of the match referee... by stating that he believed that the referee had been influenced at half-time."
In layman's speak he is accused of declaring that Rose was "got at" by Leicester. After seeing his league leaders surrender a half-time advantage and lose 22-15, Venter embarked on a rant in which he wondered how the penalty count could turn from being 9-3 in favour of Saracens to 10-4 against. He then told the BBC: "I think the referee was influenced at half-time and the game changed. That's all I can say. Something happened at half-time but I have no idea what. I do not think referees are dishonest, but they are unbelievably inconsistent. They are being massively influenced by players on the field. They are way too friendly with the players and should keep their distance... it could affect our challenge for the title."
The coach and his club vehemently deny any integrity-besmirching and signalled they will not take any punishment lying down. "The club will mount a vigorous defence," promised their chief executive, Edward Griffiths. "Brendan offered an impassioned, rational and widely supported analysis of problems currently facing the game. He did not question the integrity of the referee at any stage and, in fact, on the contrary, stressed on several occasions he does not believe any of the officials are dishonest."
In fairness, Venter's comments were part of a 40-minute criticism of the state of refereeing, which he – and it must be said, plenty of others – believes has reduced the breakdown area to a "lottery". However, whether he and Saracens can make the RFU see that is doubtful.
* Chris Latham, the Worcester full-back, has confirmed he will be returning to Australia at the end of the season for family reasons.Reuse content