Steve Walsh, the controversial Australian official who frustrated England to within an inch of their lives during the Six Nations finale in Wales 11 days ago, is the heaviest faller in the latest round of refereeing appointments sanctioned by the International Rugby Board.
Walsh will not control any of the 30 Tests scheduled for early summer, although he has been awarded the opening British and Irish Lions tour match with the Barbarians in Hong Kong on 1 June.
Two of the red rose coaching team, Stuart Lancaster and Graham Rowntree, questioned Walsh’s decision-making at scrum and breakdown during the heavy defeat in Cardiff, with Rowntree seeking clarification on a number of interpretations from the IRB’s referee manager Joel Jutge. England have a long history of dissatisfaction with Walsh, stretching back to the 2003 World Cup.
The Lions Tests against the Wallabies will be controlled by a three-man team comprising Chris Pollock of New Zealand, Romain Poite of France and Craig Joubert of South Africa. Joubert’s performances in the Six Nations were not universally celebrated, but as the leading Springbok official he was always likely to play a significant role in the Lions series.
Meanwhile, Lancaster has drafted the Exeter rugby director Rob Baxter and the Saracens coach Paul Gustard into his back-room team for the forthcoming England tour of Argentina. They will replace Rowntree and the backs coach Andy Farrell, both of whom will be on Lions business while the national team are in South America.
Baxter has worked a minor miracle with the Devon club, quickly establishing them as a potent Premiership force after their promotion in 2010. Gustard, a much-travelled top-flight flanker who turned to coaching four seasons ago, will major on defence – one of the great strengths of Saracens, favourites to win a second national title in three years.
It was not such a great news day for London Welsh, who learnt that if they are to claw their way out of the relegation hole that opened beneath them as a result of the Tyson Keats registration scandal, they will have to do it on the field of play rather than through the Rugby Football Union’s disciplinary system. The authorities conceded some ground after hearing the Exiles’ appeal against a five-point penalty that has left them at the foot of the Premiership table at a late stage in the campaign, but nowhere near enough to ease their fight against the drop.
An independent panel chaired by Gareth Rees QC accepted that while the circumstances surrounding the case were “quite exceptional” – Keats, a scrum-half from New Zealand, unwittingly played 10 pre-Christmas matches under false documents filed by the former London Welsh team manager Mike Scott, now banned from all rugby involvement for life – it had no choice but to “acknowledge the impact on the integrity of the game”. The immediate points deduction remains in place, along with the £15,000 imposed at the original hearing earlier this month. A further five-point penalty, suspended until the end of next season, has been removed.
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