RWC officials probe England over claim

FP – Rugby World Cup organisers have launched an investigation into claims England coaching staff approached the match officials at halftime in their shattering loss to the Wallabies.

The probe follows an AAP report that two England staff were allegedly involved in a robust exchange with the officials in the tunnel at Twickenham as the players left the field with England trailing 17-3 on Saturday.

Approaching match officials in such circumstances is strictly outlawed and the matter threatens to further embarrass hosts England, already reeling after failing to qualify for the knockout stage.

“World Rugby is investigating an alleged breach by the England coaching team of the match-day communications protocol between match officials and team members or union officials,” said a World Rugby statement released on Monday.

It’s understood there is CCTV footage of the position in the tunnel where the alleged incident took place and this could used in the investigation.

“They have been in contact with us wanting to speak to us, but I don’t know what the process will be,” said England’s assistant coach Andy Farrell, who refused to comment further.

England’s scrum had conceded three first-half penalties as French referee Romain Poite came down hard on their loosehead prop Joe Marler for boring in at an angle.

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika received a formal warning earlier this year after he approached referee Jaco Peyper at half-time during his NSW Waratahs’ win over the Blues in Sydney.

Farrell, whose son Owen Farrell was one of the few good performers for England, had to fight off questions about his role in England’s downfall at a media conference on Monday.

Media reports have spoken of players feeling that Farrell had too much influence in coach Stuart Lancaster’s team selection and were uneasy about rugby league convert Sam Burgess getting a place so soon.

“Four of us as coaches get together and have a selection meeting. You put your two pennies worth in and Stuart makes the call and we all buy into that. It’s unanimous,” Farrell said of selection decisions.

Farrell said Burgess had “worked unbelievably hard and continued to work very hard to make his stamp and give his all for the team.”

He added that there is “devastation in the camp” over defeats by Wales and Australia that led to the historic exit. But he defended Lancaster.

“I think what Stuart has built here is more than those two defeats,” said Farrell.

“Three and a half years under Stuart has been built on solid foundations. He has done marvellous things for this country and this rugby team. He is the hardest-working Englishman that I have ever met.”

Lancaster himself has said he feels he will never get over the failed campaign. Newspapers are clamouring for his departure, though the Rugby Football Union said a review will go on after England’s final World Cup pool game against Uruguay on Saturday.

Meanwhile Japan’s coach Eddie Jones, the former Wallabies mentor who is meant to join South African side the Stormers after the World Cup, said in a Daily Mail column he would “chat” to English bosses about the job if approached.

“There will be a lot of contenders queuing up for his (Lancaster’s) job,” commented Jones.

Clive Woodward, who managed England to their 2003 World Cup triumph, has said he is not keen to return.

Other names mentioned include Mike Ford, the rugby league convert now in charge at Bath, Jake White, the South African who guided the Springboks to their 2007 World Cup success, and Jim Mallinder of Northampton Saints.

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