Borthwick makes plea to referee

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England captain Steve Borthwick has pleaded with referee Craig Joubert to give his side a fair crack of the whip in Saturday's RBS 6 Nations clash with Ireland.

England have had eight sin-binnings in their last three Tests, including Mike Tindall and Andy Goode against Wales, and believe they are starting to be refereed on reputation.

Attack coach Brian Smith yesterday claimed Jonathan Kaplan had been influenced in his handling of the match by pressure from Welsh management.

And Borthwick said: "What we hope is that Joubert referees both sides equally. That is all that is asked for. We want consistency on that. I don't think that is asking too much.

"When you go on to the field for that 80 minutes you just want both teams refereed exactly the same, with the same interpretations. Then we have got a level to be accountable to."

Discipline has been a major issue for Martin Johnson since he took over as England manager for the November internationals.

Careless penalties gifted Australia a 28-14 victory before England had four players sin-binned and conceded 18 penalties against New Zealand.

After Wales had profited from 18 points in penalties, including eight crucial points while Goode was in the sin-bin, to win 23-15 at the Millennium Stadium, Johnson claimed England were suffering from a "perception problem" among officials.

Smith yesterday went a large step further.

"His (Kaplan's) whole demeanour through that match, the way he addressed our team in the changing room beforehand - he had clearly had heaps of pressure put on by Wales," he said.

"The way our team was addressed prior to the Wales game took me a little bit by surprise. It was clear to me that Wales had done their job in terms of getting stuck into the referee.

"Fair play to them for doing it. Teams are looking at every advantage they can get.

"What we are really trying to say to the refs is: 'Please judge us the same way you judge other teams and do not to come into the game with a preconceived idea'."

England felt both Cardiff sin-binnings were questionable and they were disappointed Lee Byrne escaped a yellow card for taking out Delon Armitage in the air.

"We're frustrated by those decisions," Smith added.

"It was Mike Tindall's first infringement and he gets a yellow. It was touch and go whether he had actually won the football.

"Goode had secured the ball, one of our players bumps into him, it looks like he is off his feet and he's gone.

"Our issue with the referees is that there is no doubt Wales played up on the fact (the perception about England) to Kaplan."

Despite their frustrations over Kaplan's performance, England accept their discipline must improve if they are to stand any chance of emerging from Croke Park with a victory this weekend.

Tindall's sin-binning had followed a fierce warning from referee Kaplan that England's next infringement would be punished after they had conceded five penalties in quick succession.

England plan to bring an RFU referee into training this week in the hope of sharpening their practice at the breakdown.

England could learn today whether Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley will be available for selection against Ireland after he suffered a strained calf muscle.