England escape lightly from extra man saga

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The Independent Online

A £10,000 fine and a two-match touchline ban for Dave Reddin, a fitness co-ordinator whose tactical involvement in England's World Cup campaign is precisely zero: worse things have happened at sea. Much to the disgust of the ever-sympathetic sporting pundits of Australia - "England spend 10 grand on tea and biccies every afternoon," snorted Phil Kearns, the former Wallaby captain - the least popular side in the tournament escaped serious punishment for their pitch-side misdemeanours during last weekend's epic match with Samoa in Melbourne.

There was more than a whiff of convenience about yesterday's decision by the competition's independent judicial officer, Brian McLoughlin of Ireland, following a three-hour hearing in Sydney. An unpleasant argument between Reddin and one of the touch-line officials, the New Zealand referee Steve Walsh, was effectively ignored, while any docking of tournament points - a course that might have altered the landscape of the competition and forced thousands of supporters into last-minute changes of travel arrangements - was not seriously considered.

England could have been far more heavily punished for sending Dan Luger, their replacement wing, on to the field in defiance of instructions by the so-called "fifth official", Brett Bowden of Australia, in the dying minutes of Sunday's game, and for having 16 men on the field, albeit for a period of six seconds. But the English delegation, led by the head coach Clive Woodward, admitted their wrong-doing and were happy to accept a fine that would barely make a dent on the current accounts of Jonny Wilkinson or Lawrence Dallaglio.

Woodward and his colleagues defended Reddin, the member of the back-room team directly responsible for fielding Luger, with some vigour. "Mr McLoughlin took into account that there had been an admission of guilt and that there were a range of mitigating circumstances, including a clean record, character evidence and an apology," said the World Cup authorities in an official statement. "But this was weighed against a number of factors, including the fact that the directions of the match official were ignored and the need to maintain the integrity of those officials."

The judgement does not prevent Reddin carrying out by far the most significant of his roles in the England camp - that of overseeing the physical preparation of the team for each fixture. He will not, however, be permitted near the pitch for Sunday's final pool match against Uruguay and next weekend's likely quarter-final against Wales. The touchline duties will probably pass to one of the physiotherapists, Barney Kenny or Phil Pask, or the masseur, Richard Wegrzyk.

"Dave Reddin is and will continue to be a valuable and well-respected member of the squad," said the England communications director, Richard Prescott, before refusing to take questions on the outcome of the hearing. "We are delighted that this verdict has been reached."

It remains to be seen whether Walsh, one of the leading referees in the world, is penalised for his alleged role in the argument with Reddin, after which England accused him of verbally abusing their man. He was listed to run the line in today's match between France and the United States in Wollongong, but no appointments for the knock-out stages have yet been made.

So endeth this peculiar saga, a minor event in the great scheme of this tournament but one that outgrew itself because England were the team involved. Accusations of institutional arrogance are only to be expected when English sportsmen visit this part of the world, especially when those sportsmen are considered to be capable of actually winning something. As Woodward said after the first outbreak of what he sees as anti-English paranoia: "It will only get worse."