Saracens to defend Venter over ref comments

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The Independent Online

Brendan Venter faces a Rugby Football Union disciplinary committee today with Saracens determined to mount a vigorous defence of their coach in the wake of his outspoken comments regarding referee David Rose.

The former South Africa centre was charged with "conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game" after criticising the performance of Rose following his side's 22-15 Guinness Premiership defeat against Leicester at Vicarage Road on January 2.

It is alleged that Venter questioned Rose's integrity after the 41-year-old was left bemused by what he perceived to be a turnaround in the way the match had been officiated.

Saracens chief executive Edward Griffiths said at the time of the charge: "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."

Some have questioned the manner in which Venter chose to make his comments, and his decision to reveal that RFU referees' assessor Tony Spreadbury had admitted in a confidential meeting that 25 refereeing mistakes had been made during his side's defeat against London Irish in December.

But he has also won support for drawing attention to the troublesome breakdown area and the difficulties referees face officiating such a chaotic area of the modern game.

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

"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 due to comments he made during the course of 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."