England accused Wales yesterday of influencing the referee before their 23-15 defeat at the Millennium Stadium this month. They also pleaded to be treated the same as any other team when they meet Ireland at Croke Park in the third round of the RBS Six Nations Championship on Saturday.
After receiving four yellow cards in the first two rounds — and eight this season — England believe that referees are watching harder for their offences than for those of opponents. “We don’t think there’s a conspiracy here, but at our last game Jonathan Kaplan clearly had heaps of pressure put on him,” Brian Smith, the England attack coach, said. “It was clear to me that Wales had got stuck into him. His whole demeanour, the way our team was addressed before the Wales game, took me by surprise.”
Kaplan, from South Africa, is one of the world’s most experienced officials and Craig Joubert, his countryman, will handle Saturday’s game in Dublin. However, England, who conceded six penalties and a free kick in the first 27 minutes in Cardiff before Wales offended for the first time, have been unable to trace a pattern in their various offences. On reviewing the match videos, they have also found evidence to suggest that at least a couple of their yellow cards have been harsh.
They are concerned, too, that, whereas Shane Geraghty was sent to the sin-bin for a mid-air tackle against Italy, a similar offence by Lee Byrne, the Wales full back, against Delon Armitage did not earn a yellow card. “We’re asking referees to judge us as they would other teams, not to come in with preconceptions,” Smith said.
Graham Rowntree, the scrum coach, denied that England’s players “practise cynicism”. “We’re trying to be whiter than white, but we have to be technically more efficient at the breakdown because we can’t let happen again,” he said.
Ireland confirm their starting XV today but England will wait a further 24 hours to assess Dylan Hartley’s condition. The Northampton hooker picked up a calf strain in last Sunday’s Guinness Premiership game against London Wasps.
The return to the wing of Shane Williams is the only change made by Wales for the game against France at the Stade de France on Friday evening. Leigh Halfpenny has shaded Mark Jones on the other wing and Gavin Henson, who missed the victories over Scotland and England, has been picked on the bench in place of Andrew Bishop. France have brought François Trinh-Duc, the Montpellier fly half, and Mathieu Bastareaud, the uncapped Stade Français centre, into their squad after injuries to Lionel Beauxis and Maxime Mermoz.