Van der Westhuizen replaced by Nigel Owens for Twickenham game
World Rugby take responsibility after assistant referee worked with England at training
South African official Marius van der Westhuizen has been replaced as an assistant referee for Saturday’s Six Nations match between England and Ireland at Twickenham. Photograph: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
An error by World Rugby has prompted the governing body to replace Marius van der Westhuizen with Nigel Owens as touch judge/assistant referee for Saturday’s Six Nations match between Ireland and England at Twickenham.
World Rugby are adamant their embarrassing reversal was not influenced by the IRFU.
“The decision follows Marius’ attendance at an England training session this week,” read a WR statement. “While greater dialogue and collaboration between match officials and teams (including attending team training on request) has been agreed by World Rugby and the teams, Marius should not have been involved given that he was a member of the official team for the weekend’s match.”
WR have confirmed that a referee will no longer be permitted to attend training with a team they are due to officiate in the same tournament.
“World Rugby takes responsibility for this oversight and has taken the proactive decision to stand Marius down to avoid any additional unfair and unnecessary conjecture. Marius is an outstanding talent with a big international future and both he and his employer SARU fully support the decision.
“World Rugby has also clarified with teams that, in addition to the regular pre-match coach and referee meetings, senior elite teams will continue to have the opportunity to request that a member of the high-performance match official panel attends training providing that the individual is not a member of the match official team officiating that team at a later date within the current competition or test window.”
Earlier on Thursday England coach Eddie Jones redirected any and all criticism towards World Rugby referees’ chief Alain Rolland following outcry about Van der Westhuizen coming into England camp to work on their glaring failures at the breakdown.
“Are you questioning [Van der Westhuizen’s] integrity?” Jones asked the reporter who initially raised the issue in Pennyhill Park. “We do it by the book. We went through World Rugby which is the proper channels so you are asking the wrong person.
“We asked World Rugby for a southern hemisphere referee to try to help us with our breakdown and that’s who they offered.”
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt expressed “surprise” to hear Van der Westhuizen had trained with England but added he has “the utmost confidence” in the South African’s ability to be an impartial assistant referee.