Rugby World Cup 2011: England coaches Alred and Stridgeon suspended

The Rugby Football Union has suspended two of England's coaches for the World Cup game against Scotland on Saturday.

Kicking coach Dave Alred and fitness specialist Paul Stridgeon were found to have switched the ball Jonny Wilkinson was due to kick with during England's 67-3 win over Romania without asking the permission of referee Romain Poite.

"It's unfortunate that we have had to take this action but ultimately there was a breach of the laws of the game," said England manager Martin Johnson.

Alred and Stridgeon will be banned from entering Eden Park, the venue for the Pool B decider with Scotland, following an internal RFU review of the incident.

World Cup organisers Rugby World Cup Limited (RWCL) have confirmed they will take no further action after investigating the matter.

A RWCL spokesman revealed that England were warned at half-time in the win over Romania about attempting to use a different ball to the one used to score a try for the subsequent conversion attempts.

"It happened twice and they were told to desist, which they did," said the spokesman.

Johnson explained at the time that Wilkinson thought "one of the balls was slightly less than perfect so he wanted to swap it".

When asked on Thursday about the incident, Johnson said: "If we feel a ball is not 100%, we'll ask for it to be changed.

"You have to ask the referee. If he says 'yes', you can. If he says 'no', you can't. We didn't ask him. But it's happened, some action has been taken, and we have to move on."

The RFU said it had decided to suspend Alred and Stridgeon because switching balls during a match contravened "both the laws of the game and the spirit of the game".

The RFU added the pair "mistakenly thought that there was an issue with some of the match balls".

It concluded: "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."

World Cup organisers RWCL welcomed the "decisive and timely" move and said no further punishment would be handed out.

The incident followed an uncharacteristically poor start to the tournament by the usually reliable Wilkinson.

The all-time leading points scorer in World Cup history has landed just 50% of his attempts at goal so far.

Speaking before the RFU had publicly announced the suspensions, Wilkinson said: "I'm not going to comment on that (the ball-switch issue). It's not a place I want to put my foot right now.

"Whatever we have been through has brought us as close as we can possibly be and we know the direction we want to go.

"I look at the guys in the squad now and when they are training and when they are around the hotel, you can tell just by looking at them that they are desperate to be there, they are desperate to do well, desperate to do anything that can help the other guys around them to get through.

"It's now time to try and walk the walk as opposed to talk about it."

England must beat Scotland on Saturday to be sure of qualifying for the World Cup quarter-finals.

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