Rugby World Cup 2011
England coaches suspended
Jonny Wilkinson and Dave Alred (File)
Auckland - England made further unwanted headlines on Thursday when they suspended two coaches for illegally swapping match balls, as the Rugby World Cup prepared for the make-or-break last round of pool matches.
Kicking coach Dave Alred and strength and conditioning staffer Paul Stridgeon were reprimanded and barred from Auckland's Eden Park stadium for Saturday's game against Scotland following the incident last week.
The two admitted using different balls for conversions than the one used to score the tries, which is against rugby rules, during England's 67-3 win in Dunedin against Romania. They were warned twice by referee Romain Poite.
"Two members of the team management, David Alred and Paul Stridgeon, mistakenly thought that there was an issue with some of the match balls," said a statement from England's Rugby Football Union (RFU).
"Those team management members took it upon themselves to substitute balls during the match 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."
England have had to deal with a number of untoward incidents including stories about centre Mike Tindall, who was seen embracing a blonde woman at a dwarf-throwing contest, just weeks after marrying royal heir Zara Phillips.
And lock Courtney Lawes became the first player to be suspended at the World Cup after kneeing Argentina hooker Mario Ledesma in the head during a tackle.
Wilkinson insisted the latest problem had not distracted the team from preparations to face Scotland at Auckland's Eden Park on Saturday, where both teams can clinch a quarter-final spot.
"You'd be surprised that it doesn't impact upon the rugby side of things. There's two sides of life when you're out here, you're on the field and off the field," he told reporters earlier.
Lawes returned to the England team after serving his two-match ban while coach Martin Johnson preferred Delon Armitage on the wing to Mark Cueto, despite his hat-trick of tries against Romania.
"Delon has played very well. We're very comfortable with him playing there and Mark has obviously had limited game time since he's been here, so another good week of training for him will be great," said Johnson.
Scotland made six changes for the game while Australia, who face Russia, are in the midst of an injury crisis so severe they named a backrower on the wing with two scrumhalves and two hookers on the bench to make up the numbers.
"We've got four backs coming back to us next week so (injuries) shouldn't be an issue going forward - unless we have a train smash this weekend," said coach Robbie Deans, fearing further casualties in Saturday's game.
France are likely to book their quarter-final berth against Tonga on Saturday and Wales also have a straightforward task against Fiji.
But Ireland and Italy face a Six Nations shoot-out for a qualifying spot in the very last pool game on Sunday, with the winners due to join Australia in the next round.