Sunday 20 January 2019

Assistant ref gets the boot

Owens on line for decider after official attends England training

Referee Marius van der Westhuizen. Photo: Getty
Referee Marius van der Westhuizen. Photo: Getty

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

World Rugby have responded to the controversy surrounding assistant referee Marius van der Westhuizen's involvement at England's training session on Tuesday by removing him from the panel of officials for tomorrow's Grand Slam decider and replacing him with Nigel Owens.

Although the arrangement was organised through World Rugby and no rules were broken by England or the South African, the governing body have conceded that the incident should not have taken place and will update their guidelines to prevent a similar circumstance arising again.

Ireland did not lodge an objection to Van der Westhuizen's presence at Pennyhill Park, but

Joe Schmidt described it as "a bit of a surprise", adding: "in retrospect people may think it wasn't the best thing to do."

Schmidt said he had no qualms about Van der Westhuizen's involvement but within hours of his press conference concluding yesterday at Carton House the South African was replaced.

"The decision follows Marius' attendance at an England training session this week," a World Rugby statement read.

“While greater dialogue and collaboration between match officials and teams (including attending team training on request) has been agreed by World Rugby and the teams, Marius should not have been involved given that he was a member of the match official team for the weekend’s match.

“World Rugby takes responsibility for this oversight and has taken the proactive decision to stand Marius down to avoid any additional unfair and unnecessary conjecture.

“Marius is an outstanding talent with a big international future and both he and his employer SARU fully support the decision.

“World Rugby has also clarified with teams that, in addition to the regular pre-match coach and referee meetings, senior elite teams will continue to have the opportunity to request that a member of the high-performance match official panel attends training providing that the individual is not a member of the match official team officiating that team at a later date within the current competition or Test window.”

Before flying to London for tomorrow’s date with destiny, Schmidt made one change to his team as Iain Henderson replaced Devin Toner in the second-row.

Under-pressure England coach Eddie Jones, meanwhile, has wielded his axe as he looks to save his side’s season after losing their title thanks to losses to Scotland and France.

The Australian has dropped half-backs George Ford and Danny Care, second-row Joe Launchbury, hooker Jamie George and prop Dan Cole from his team with Owen Farrell moving to out-half and Dylan Hartley coming back to skipper the side. James Haskell and Sam Simmonds replace the injured Courtney Lawes and Nathan Hughes.

Given the stakes, Schmidt is expecting a desperation derby.

“I do think that England will want to play. They will want to come at us, they will want to have the ball on the pitch and they will work hard to make sure that’s the case,” he said.

“As much as all of the myths and evaluations of game minutes get thrown around there, 44 minutes of ball-in-play time in our Scotland game was about 10 minutes more than the average.

“It’s something that could well be repeated this weekend because they are desperate to win and so are we.”

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