Brendan Venter knows he is in hot water as a result of his verbal spectacular at Vicarage Road last weekend – possibly the most withering public assault on refereeing standards mounted in recent seasons and certainly the most entertaining. The precise temperature of that water should become clear today when Rugby Football Union officials, still apoplectic over the damage to the game's image caused by last season's contrasting scandals at Harlequins and Bath and determined to exert some authority, decide on their course of action.
The Saracens director of rugby complained bitterly about the performance of the Devon-based official David Rose after the Premiership leaders' defeat by Leicester on Saturday. This, in itself, was enough to land him in trouble, but Venter upped the ante by revealing details of his discussions with Tony Spreadbury, one of the leading figures in Twickenham's refereeing department, following the tight match at London Irish six days previously. The RFU regards this breach of privacy as beyond the pale.
Yet as the governing body prepares to place the South African on what it considers to be an open-and-shut disrepute charge, there is no guarantee that the Saracens management will take it laying down. Yesterday, one official pointed to an incident following the Saracens-Leeds match in October, when Venter's opposite number, Andy Key, openly spoke of a communication with Rose in which the referee admitted his mistake in denying Leeds a legitimate try. "These things are either private or they're not," said the source.
Venter's outburst was not one of the knee-jerk variety. The World Cup-winning Springbok had clearly made up his mind in advance to go off at the deep end, and once he had started he was determined, in true "Mastermind" style, to finish. He might, however, have chosen a better moment. It is only six weeks since the RFU took strong action against Leicester's head coach Richard Cockerill for verbally abusing the Yorkshire official Tim Wigglesworth after an Anglo-Welsh Cup tie, and the RFU's refereeing department is feeling tender as a result of a series of high-profile controversies since the start of the season.
One of those controversies, again involving Rose, was the last-minute postponement of the Premiership game between Sale and Wasps last month – a public relations calamity for which the referee was, wholly unfairly, held responsible by the tournament administrators. Sale were scheduled to play another floodlit game at Edgeley Park this Friday, but with more cold weather on the way, their match with – you guessed it – Saracens has been moved to lunchtime on Saturday.
There was cheerier news for Saracens yesterday when the RFU named Andy Farrell, in his first full season on the back-room staff at Vicarage Road, as one of the England Saxons coaches for the second-string internationals against Ireland and Italy in the coming weeks. Farrell, who won a handful of full caps after switching to union from rugby league, retired at the end of last season. While injuries prevented him maximising whatever talent he had for the 15-man game he is widely considered to be one of the brightest skills coaches in the sport. Along with the national academy coach Simon Hardy, Farrell will operate under the Saxons head coach Stuart Lancaster.Reuse content