England's coaching staff, badly hurt by the scale of last weekend's record Six Nations defeat in Wales and infuriated at the manner of it, are to take their concerns over the performance of the referee Steve Walsh to the International Rugby Board. The red- rose hierarchy will seek "clarification" on a number of issues following close inspection of a series of decisions they believe contributed to the failure of their Grand Slam bid.
"I sat up on Saturday night and watched the game again, in forensic detail," said Graham Rowntree, the forwards coach. "I'm annoyed at a lot of the outcomes. A lot of those calls were big, momentum-changing decisions. I spoke to Steve afterwards and we both agreed to go away and look at the match again. Having watched it, I need clarification. In most games recently, we've submitted glowing reports on referees. On this occasion, we're frustrated."
These complaints will be greeted by a chorus of guffaws from the far side of the Severn Bridge: criticism of the referee is generally considered to be the first refuge of the bad loser, and as the contest at the Millennium Stadium was anything but close – 27 points separated the sides at close of play – Rowntree's concerns could easily be laughed clean out of the court of rugby opinion.
But England were undeniably bewildered by Walsh's handling of the scrum, where Wales were awarded a series of penalties and free-kicks, and completely discombobulated by his refereeing of the tackle area, where common or garden attempts to win the ball on the floor were ruled off-limits. Rowntree angrily rejected the idea that his players should have been more streetwise in adapting to the officiating. "I don't buy this whole 'streetwise' thing," he said. "We just want clean outcomes."
The former Leicester and England prop intends to discuss these matters with Joël Jutge, the Frenchman who runs the IRB's refereeing department. "Joël is very keen on an open forum," Rowntree continued. "I'll be speaking to him because I need to clarify exactly what happened at scrum and breakdown."
Stuart Lancaster, the head coach, also raised an issue, casting doubt over the legality of the Welsh possession "steal" that led to Alex Cuthbert's opening try. "That was the tipping point in the game," Lancaster said.
Last Thursday night, less than 48 hours before kick-off, Rowntree met Walsh, a New Zealander who referees under the Australian flag, to run the rule over potentially contentious parts of the game, which always include the set-piece and the ruck. Asked whether there were any similarities between the conversation and the actuality, the coach replied wryly: "The two don't always join up."
This is not the first time – or, indeed, the second or third – that England have felt hard done by after games involving this particular member of the whistling fraternity. In 2003, during their successful World Cup campaign, there was a fierce touchline spat between Walsh and the red-rose conditioning coach Dave Reddin – an incident that earned the official a three-day suspension for "inappropriate behaviour".
He was heavily implicated when England lost a tight Six Nations game against Wales at Twickenham a year ago – the game ended in confusion over an advantage call as the home side were pressing for a match-winning score – and was widely considered to be at fault as a touch judge when South Africa scored a first-minute try against Lancaster's side in Johannesburg.