Saturday 26 May 2018

Assistant referee who attended Eddie Jones' England training session stood down for Ireland game

Referee Marius van der Westhuizen will not be involved at Twickenham after all
Referee Marius van der Westhuizen will not be involved at Twickenham after all

Nick Purewal

Marius van der Westhuizen has been stood down from assistant refereeing duties for Ireland's Grand Slam clash on Saturday, after attending an England training session.

Global governing body World Rugby has replaced Van der Westhuizen with Wales' Nigel Owens - and accepted full responsibility for what it branded an "oversight".

South African official Van der Westhuizen refereed England's training session at Pennyhill Park on Tuesday, just four days before he was due to run the line when Ireland face Eddie Jones' side at Twickenham.

Ireland boss Joe Schmidt had on Thursday lunchtime insisted he had faith in Van der Westhuizen's "integrity", but now any possible conflict of interest has been removed.

"World Rugby has confirmed that Marius van der Westhuizen will be replaced by Nigel Owens as assistant referee 2 for the NatWest 6 Nations match between England and Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday," World Rugby announced.

"The decision follows Marius' attendance at an England training session this week. 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."

Ireland will chase just their third-ever Grand Slam at Twickenham on Saturday, with England bidding to avoid their worst Six Nations showing since 2006.

The Irish camp had made a measured response to the issue of Van der Westhuizen's position on Thursday, with boss Schmidt insisting he was relaxed about the South African's role in Saturday's crucial encounter.

"That is a bit of a surprise," said Schmidt, of Van der Westhuizen helping out at England training this week.

"I'm sure in retrospect people are probably thinking it's not the best thing to do.

"I know Marius and I would have no hesitation in standing by his integrity.

"I don't think it will affect his decision-making and we'll stand by him as an official on Saturday."

England boss Eddie Jones had also earlier insisted Van der Westhuizen's neutrality should not be in question.

"What, are you questioning his integrity?" asked Jones, when asked about the issue.

"We went through World Rugby, which is the proper channels, so you are asking the wrong person."

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