RFU apologises for England coach Jones' referee outburst

by Julian GUYER
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New deal - England coach Eddie Jones

England's Rugby Football Union (RFU) has apologised for comments made by coach Eddie Jones after he appeared to question referee Ben O'Keeffe's integrity by suggesting his side had been playing "against 16" following last week's Six Nations win over Wales.

But, significantly, RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney, said the governing body considered "the matter to be closed" and would not be pursuing disciplinary action against their often outspoken Australian coach, who is yet to issue a public apology of his own.

Following the 33-30 victory at Twickenham last Saturday, Jones said: "At the end we were 13 against 16 and that's hard."

Sweeney, while taking no action on this occasion, warned the former Australia and Japan coach any similar comments in the future could lead to disciplinary measures.

"The RFU does not condone comments that undermine the integrity of match officials, who are central to the sport and its values," said Sweeney in a statement.

"We have discussed with England head coach Eddie Jones the nature of the comments he made to the media in the immediate aftermath of a dramatic finish to the England versus Wales Guinness Six Nations match on Saturday, and have made it clear that such comments are not in line with the values of the sport or the RFU."

- Case 'closed' -

Meanwhile, Sweeney said Jones and the RFU had proposed a "discussion forum" with World Rugby in a bid to achieve "greater alignment" between coaches and officials.

"Eddie and the RFU regret any implication that Ben O'Keeffe was biased in his decision making," Sweeney said.

"We have outlined this position to the tournament organisers the Six Nations and World Rugby, who will pass on our apologies to Ben O'Keeffe and the match officials team.

"All parties are satisfied the matter has been dealt with appropriately, are confident that further action would be taken should such a situation occur in the future, and consider the matter to be closed."

World Cup finalists England finished the match with 13 men after replacement forward Ellis Genge had been sin-binned and Manu Tuilagi was sent off for a dangerous "no arms" tackle on Wales wing George North with five minutes left.

Jones labelled the decision "bizarre" even though most observers felt New Zealand referee O'Keeffe had little choice but to show the powerhouse centre a red card.

England, who had been 33-16 ahead on the hour mark, conceded two late scores but the clock was against Wales and the hosts held on for a win that maintained their Six Nations title challenge.

"13 against 16" England coach Eddie Jones was unhappy with referee Ben O'Keeffe after the Six Nations win over Wales

Man in the middle - New Zealand referee Ben O'Keeffe watches the screen at Twickenham