England coach Martin Johnson denied a welter of problems were affecting their World Cup campaign after two coaches were suspended for illegally swapping balls.
Johnson insisted “it’s not one thing after another” following the ‘ballgate’ affair, which follows stories involving centre Mike Tindall and a mystery blonde, and a two-match ban on lock Courtney Lawes.
Johnson criticised coaches Dave Alred and Paul Stridgeon for choosing which balls to use for conversions - an offence under IRB rules - by misfiring kicker Jonny Wilkinson during the 67-3 win over Romania.
But he said the incidents were not distracting his players ahead of their final Pool B game against Scotland, and accused the media of giving them too much importance.
“It’s not one thing after another. Most of the time we’re training and getting ready for games,” Johnson said.
“I said to you last week, if you’re referring to Mike, you guys blew that up out of all proportion.
“We dealt with it at the time. You ask questions, I answer them, players go and train and get on with playing games so I’ve got no issues with it.
“If you come to a World Cup there’s going to be a few bumps in the road. You may regard them as big, we just get on with it. We’ve dealt with those things, we’ve dealt with this. We move on.”
Alred and Stridgeon were both barred from the Scotland game over ‘ballgate’, which comes just as England had dragged attention away from the Tindall affair and back to their rugby with a clinical display against Romania.
CCTV footage of Tindall and the blonde woman - taken at a Queenstown bar which featured dwarf-throwing, and just weeks after he married Royal heir Zara Phillips - caused a sensation when it was posted on the internet.
And England’s campaign was also dealt a blow when Lawes became the first player of the World Cup to be suspended, over a knee to the head of Argentina hooker Mario Ledesma.
Johnson said Alred and Stridgeon had made a mistake “in the heat of the game”, but that the matter was now closed.
“You’ve got to be prepared for what comes at you in a World Cup in the heat of the game, and in the heat of a World Cup match these guys have made a mistake, as simple as that,” he said.
“They’ve paid for it. It was flagged up to us, they were asked to stop, they did stop. They’re going to miss this game, we move on.
“They made a mistake. They should have asked the referee. Whether they knew or not at that time I’m not too sure. But they should have asked the referee, we knew that.”
‘Ballgate’ recalls a similar indiscretion in 2003, when England briefly fielded 16 players during their pool game against Samoa. England, who went on to lift the title, were fined and a member of their staff was banned for two matches.
Some New Zealand media said England had got off lightly with the self-imposed, one-game ban for their coaches, compared with news that Samoa’s Alesana Tuilagi is facing a big fine for wearing a mouthguard with a non-endorsed logo.