Steve Walsh, the New Zealand referee considered a likely candidate for a big-time appointment in the latter stages of the World Cup, was removed from the officials' list at yesterday's game between France and the United States in Wollongong and will not take an active part in the tournament until Monday as punishment for his role in the touchline fracas with a member of the England back-room team after last weekend's match with Samoa.
On Thursday, England were fined £10,000 for fielding a replacement, Dan Luger, in defiance of instructions from a pitchside official, Brett Bowden of Australia. Dave Reddin, the team's fitness co-ordinator, was given a two-match touchline suspension for his contribution to the confusion. However, Reddin was cleared of a complaint of misconduct relating to his argument with Walsh.
Yesterday, tournament officials effectively backed England's version of the Reddin-Walsh row by disciplining the referee - a move without precedent in World Cup history. Senior members of the England party had claimed that Walsh approached Reddin at the end of the game and, in language of rich colour, repeatedly called him "a loser". New Zealanders have been doing that for years, of course. But New Zealand referees? One would hope not.
For his part, Clive Woodward was the soul of discretion after returning from the disciplinary hearing in Sydney. "I'm glad it's over," said the England head coach. "It has been a distraction. Some serious allegations were made against the team and myself, but I think we handled the situation well and believe the outcome was fair. I have to say that Brian McLoughlin, the judicial officer in charge of the hearing, did a very professional job.
"I would also say that the Samoans have been outstanding; my respect for them and their coaches, John Boe and Michael Jones, is immense. They were clearly being put under pressure to say something, but they wouldn't have anything to do with it because they didn't want to tarnish a great game of rugby. I hope the International Rugby Board hands over the £10,000 to them, they deserve it more than any team I've seen here so far."