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England suspends coaches for switching RWC ball

Updated: September 29, 2011, 11:51

AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) England suspended two coaches on Thursday from involvement in the next Rugby World Cup match against Scotland for switching the ball for Jonny Wilkinson's conversions against Romania.

The move by the Rugby Football Union staved off sanctions by World Cup organizers, but they were warned that any similar rule-breaches in future would be dealt with severely.

Kicking coach Dave Alred and national fitness coach Paul Stridgeon "mistakenly thought that there was an issue with some of the match balls'' in England's Pool C win over Romania, according to the RFU.

England stopped switching after being warned during the game and the RFU accepts the coaches' actions were "in contravention of both the laws of the game and the spirit of the game.''

"The RFU fully accepts that the action of those team management members was incorrect and detrimental to the image of the tournament, the game and to English rugby,'' the RFU said in a statement. "The RFU has therefore decided to reprimand those team management members, to warn them as to their future conduct and to suspend them from participation in England's next game, the match between England and Scotland (on Saturday at Eden Park).''

World Cup organizers confirmed England will face no further sanctions, having been satisfied with the RFU's "decisive and timely action.''

"(Rugby World Cup Limited) accepts the RFU's assurances that it will abide by both the laws and the spirit of the game going forward,'' organizers said in a statement. "However it must be pointed out that any similar breaches in future will be dealt with severely.''

Immediately after the 67-3 win over Romania, England coach Martin Johnson said he had not been aware of the issue over the balls.

"If we feel a ball is not 100 percent we'll ask for it to be changed,'' Johnson said Thursday. "You have to ask the referee. If he says 'Yes,' you can. If he says 'No,' you can't.

"We didn't ask him. It's unfortunate we have had to take this action but ultimately there was a breach of the laws of the game. But it's happened, some action has been taken, and we have to move on.''

Wilkinson would not comment on the issue.

"It's not a place I want to put my foot right now,'' Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson missed five consecutive kicks in the World Cup opener against Argentina although England still won 13-9.

His strike rate is still less than 50 percent, which has brought the quality of the World Cup balls into question.

World Cup regulations state the match balls are to be used for the first time in the captain's run on the eve of matches.

As a result, some balls can be too hard and difficult to control because they have not been kicked-in.

In 2003, England's triumphant World Cup campaign could have been derailed after the team briefly fielded 16 men in the pool victory over Samoa.

England escaped a points deduction after facing a disciplinary hearing in Sydney.

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