Brendan Venter, the Saracens director of rugby, took precisely 31 minutes to land himself in hot disciplinary water with the Rugby Football Union after his side's Premiership defeat by Leicester at Vicarage Road earlier this month. Yesterday, his public apology to the referee David Rose was 139 words long and could be read in 31 seconds. It was, to say the very least, a chastening moment for the World Cup-winning Springbok centre.
"I apologise unreservedly for making a statement which caused offence to David Rose during my post-match comments," Venter said, by way of paying his debt to the sport after being found guilty of conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game by an RFU tribunal headed by the governing body's chief disciplinary officer, Judge Jeff Blackett. "I firmly believe that I did not question, or intend to question, David's integrity and any criticism... implied was not meant.
"When I said that I believed he [Rose] had been influenced at half-time I did not intend... to mean he was improperly influenced. I have no doubt that all referees... in the Guinness Premiership, including David, are honest and operate without intentionally favouring one side over another. I hope we can put this matter behind us and I look forward to welcoming David Rose back to Vicarage Road in the near future."
The apology was insisted upon by the tribunal, who also imposed a four-week match-day coaching ban on the South African, suspending it until the end of December, and ordered him to pay £250 costs. In his judgement, Blackett said: "We accept Venter is a man of integrity who is passionate about rugby, who wants to improve areas he considers in need of improvement and who speaks his mind. He is aware that his passion could get him into trouble and we advised him to be careful in future about the way he espouses his theories in public."
Blackett added that in his view, Venter had not "explicitly criticised the referee" but had left a question "half-answered so that others might draw an adverse conclusion". He also said that while "robust debate about all aspects of the game is healthy" and people involved "must be free to express general concerns", more specific issues involving criticism of individuals should be "dealt with in private through recognised channels agreed by the Premiership clubs".
In the immediate aftermath of the Leicester match, Venter raised wide-ranging concerns about the way rugby was being refereed at Premiership level. More controversially, he questioned how and why the balance of the penalty count had shifted away from Saracens and towards their opponents during the second half. He said it was as though Rose "walked through a maze and came out a different man".
Before Christmas, the South African's opposite number at Leicester, the former England hooker Richard Cockerill, received a four-week match-day ban – fully activated, rather than suspended – for verbally abusing the referee Tim Wigglesworth after an Anglo-Welsh Cup match with Newport Gwent Dragons.Reuse content