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Misbehaving England players threatened with bans

Updated: October 13, 2011, 12:49

LONDON(AP) England players have been threatened with international suspension after the Rugby Football Union on Thursday launched investigations into allegations of misconduct during the scandal-plagued World Cup campaign.

Former England captain Fran Cotton, who will lead one of the RFU's reviews, said a series of off-field incidents had a "corrosive effect'' on the team.

The limp quarterfinal loss to France on Saturday ended England's worst World Cup campaign since 1999.

"The players have let themselves down as well as (manager) Martin Johnson down,'' Cotton said in Thursday's editions of the Daily Telegraph. "He can't be on their shoulders the whole time. What's gone on has not done the reputation of English rugby any good. If you follow English rugby, you'd be very, very disappointed.''

The campaign is the subject of three separate reviews - one conducted by Cotton, one on behalf of the Professional Game Board and one by RFU executive Rob Andrew.

Cotton will assess England's performance since Johnson, whose contract expires in December, took charge as well as the management structure before reporting back to acting RFU chief executive Martyn Thomas by Nov. 30.

"Martin has now been in charge three-and-a-half years and it is very difficult to understand what style of play this England rugby team is all about,'' Cotton said. "The basic skills of rugby at that level just aren't good enough and I haven't seen an improvement in the last three-and-a-half years. The players have got to take a huge responsibility.''

Any players found to have breached the RFU elite player agreement or its code of conduct could be fined, warned or handed an international ban, Thomas said.

"The off-field performances have been wholly unacceptable,'' Thomas said. "The players were extensively counseled and coached on the implications of this tour and the conduct that was required of them was made clear to them.

"I don't believe any individual can put their hand up and say we didn't know what was going to happen. They were fully prepped.''

England's time in New Zealand was mired in controversy, including Mike Tindall being captured on security footage holding a woman's hand and receiving a kiss on top of his head at a Queenstown bar. That made front-page news because the 2003 World Cup-winning center married Zara Phillips, Queen Elizabeth II's granddaughter, in August.

"He looked absolutely hammered (drunk),'' Cotton said of Tindall. "I personally find that unforgivable. He was England captain and there's a big difference between going out for a few beers and that.

"It will have affected his performance. That sort of thing never had any place in the amateur era and it's certainly got no place in the professional era. I find it incredible that he did that. What sort of example is that to be setting to younger players? He's a cracking bloke normally, but he got this one absolutely wrong.''

Three players were also reprimanded for making sexist comments to a hotel worker on the trip that culminated in center Manu Tuilagi being detained by police after jumping off a ferry into Auckland harbor in the wake of the France loss.

Johnson's team lost 19-12 to the French in the quarterfinals after struggling to narrow pool victories over Argentina and Scotland.

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