Saracens back under fire Venter

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Saracens have vowed to vigorously defend director of rugby Brendan Venter after he was charged with bringing the game into disrepute.

Venter is alleged to have questioned the integrity of referee David Rose by stating he believed the official was influenced at half-time in Saracens' 22-15 defeat to Leicester.

The hearing has been set for January 19 and if found guilty of "conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game", Venter could face a touchline ban, a fine or both.

But Saracens chief executive Edward Griffiths last night said: "The club will mount a vigorous defence.

"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."

Venter was furious at what he perceived to be a transformation in Rose's performance in the second half at Vicarage Road, leading to a turnaround in the penalty count in Leicester's favour.

"The penalty count in the first half was 9-3 to Sarries. The penalty count in the second half was 10-4 to Leicester," said Venter.

"We asked the referee to keep everything the same in the second half. Something happened to this poor referee and there was basically a 12-penalty swing.

"There was one referee in the first half, he walked through a maze or something, and he came out another referee.

"This is a professional game and this is a problem. I don't think referees are dishonest, we just do not have the ability to stay objective."

Venter has been specifically charged with the comments he made in a BBC radio interview, in which he said: "I think the referee was influenced at half-time, and that's all I can think.

"All I know is something happened at half-time, the game changed."

The RFU's legal officer Karena Vleck has spent the last two days investigating Venter's comments and then passed the case on to the disciplinary unit after deciding charges should be laid.

The RFU confirmed: "The alleged offence is that on January 2, 2010 Brendan Venter, director of rugby Saracens RFC, whilst taking part in a BBC interview, criticised or implied criticism by publicly questioning the integrity of the match referee in regard to the reasons for the change of penalty count from the first to second half in the match Saracens v Leicester Tigers by stating that he believed that the referee had been influenced at half-time."