Furious reaction to Booth's 'lucky charm' ref claim
A WAR of words has erupted over London Irish claims that Leinster will have a refereeing advantage in tomorrow's decisive Heineken Cup Pool 6 clash in Twickenham.
Top Welsh referee Nigel Owens takes charge of the Twickenham clash and has been described as Leinster's "lucky charm" by London Irish coach Toby Booth, referring to the fact Owens refereed the champions' Heineken Cup quarter-final, semi-final and final victories last year.
"They (Leinster) have a massive lucky charm that we have to get over as well, which is Nigel Owens refereeing," said Booth.
"He refereed their last quarter-final, semi-final and final so they seem to enjoy his refereeing. So that is something else we have to get over. But we like our backs against the wall so we will have to see."
While Leinster did not wish to comment on the controversy, a source within IRFU circles last night claimed that Booth's comments were a "blatant" attempt to put pressure on Owens ahead of the match that London Irish must win with a bonus point while denying Leinster a losing bonus point to qualify for the quarter-finals.
"These comments are completely out of order," said the source. "Nigel Owens is a highly respected, top-level international referee whose reputation is beyond question. There was absolutely no evidence of Owens showing Leinster any favouritism during last season's knockout matches and this is a blatant attempt by the London Irish coach to put pressure on the referee ahead of a must-win match."
When contacted yesterday evening, London Irish chose not to make any further comment on the issue.
Meanwhile, there was good news for Ireland coach Declan Kidney yesterday ahead of the Six Nations when it emerged that full-back Geordan Murphy expects to return to action in the next "two to three weeks".
The Leicester man has been out of action since injuring his shoulder in a Premiership match against Bath last September but has been in regular contact with the Ireland management and is hopeful of playing some part in Ireland's Six Nations campaign which kicks off against Italy in Croke Park on February 6.
"It has been incredibly frustrating," said Murphy, who has 63 caps for Ireland. "But it could have been worse as it did seem possible at one time that I'd miss the whole season, but should be no more than another two or three weeks.
"I've been talking to them (Ireland) regularly and it isn't impossible that I might get some involvement towards the end of the Six Nations, which would be great," he added.