Sir Clive Woodward has been more than a little worried about the make-up of the refereeing panel for this summer's British and Irish Lions Test series with the All Blacks, to the extent that he suggested abandoning the principle of neutrality in favour of allowing the best officials in the world to control the biggest matches. Predictably, the International Rugby Board would not wear it, and yesterday the pigeons came home to roost.
Jonathan Kaplan, the South African official at the centre of the controversy surrounding England's defeat in Ireland during the Six Nations Championship, will run the third and final Test in Auckland on 9 July. His appointment will be of enormous concern to the Lions back-room staff, not least the England coach Andy Robinson, who openly criticised Kaplan's performance after the game in Dublin and landed himself in a whole heap of trouble as a result.
Robinson felt Kaplan cost his team two tries at Lansdowne Road, and said so. Colin High, the Rugby Football Union's élite referee manager, said that he would have had his own backside kicked had a referee of his performed so poorly. High very nearly lost his job, while Robinson was given a ticking off by Jeff Blackett, the RFU's disciplinary officer.
Senior IRB figures were furious at what they considered the England camp's outrageous handling of the issue, and it may be no coincidence that Kaplan has been awarded what could well turn out to be the biggest game since the 2003 World Cup final, which was also controlled by a South African, Andre Watson - who also attracted a verbal volley from the red-rose management.
Joel Jutge of France will run the opening Test in Christchurch on 25 June, while Andrew Cole of Australia has been awarded the second match in the rubber, in Wellington on 2 July. Another Wallaby official, the whistle-happy Stuart Dickinson, has been restricted to flag duty, and will run the touch in all three games.
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