England are in fresh trouble at the Rugby World Cup, following an extraordinary 24 hours on and off the field. Further allegations of off-field misbehaviour have led to three players being officially reprimanded, Mike Tindall has admitted that he did not tell the full truth about his well-publicised night out in Queenstown last month and there are increasing doubts about the fitness of Jonny Wilkinson
The litany of issues facing the team manager, Martin Johnson, has overshadowed the team's tense 16-12 victory over Scotland which set up a quarter-final against France on Saturday. Johnson has confirmed that three of his squad – James Haskell, Dylan Hartley and Chris Ashton – are on a final warning after a hotel employee complained that she had been subjected to lewd banter. A spokesman for Tindall said the player had apologised for giving a misleading account of his evening activities in Queenstown last month.
While the Tindall allegations have already received extensive coverage, Johnson has refused to discipline the player, insisting he had merely been "inaccurate in his recollection of the events of the night" rather than attempting "an orchestrated cover-up" following the release of CCTV pictures which showed him visiting a second bar in Queenstown with a blonde companion.
Johnson was less sympathetic towards Haskell, Hartley and Ashton, who he said had been left "in no doubt" about his anger following a complaint about their conduct from a female hotel worker. All three were required to apologise formally to Annabel Newton after she was reportedly subjected to lewd comments. According to the Sunday Mirror, Ms Newton said the men "treated me with no respect" after she was called into a bedroom at the Southern Cross Hotel in Dunedin to retrieve a walkie-talkie.
"I was angry with them, " said Johnson. "It is just the sort of thing we have talked about. What they thought was humour and a light-hearted exchange has clearly not been taken that way by Annabel, the girl involved. At the time they apologised when they realised they had stepped over the mark. They were shocked when they understood how upset she had become. They have been reprimanded for their behaviour and left in no doubt. If you leave yourself open for these headlines to be written it drags us all into it and that is what makes me particularly angry."
A series of controversies have hit the England squad since their arrival in New Zealand a month ago. Only on Friday the Rugby Football Union opted to suspend two back-room staff, the kicking coach Dave Alred and conditioning coach Paul Stridgeon, for their part in the ball-switching saga during the match against Romania which earned further unwanted headlines.
Before England left for New Zealand, Johnson said he would not be banning alcohol or imposing curfews and he said on Sunday that he still trusts his players.
"I don't think they will take liberties, " he said, saying he was confident no more stories would emerge. "Yeah, I am. I think it was a shock to those players that they'd left themselves open to appearing on the front page of a paper. That's upsetting for them, and it's obviously not great for the team. I don't want to sit here talking about these allegations when we've qualified for the quarter-finals of a World Cup."
Asked whether any consideration had been given to sending Tindall home, Johnson said: "His recollection is wrong of where he's been, and the order he's in there, and that is what it is. There's video footage that was available at the time so I don't think he'd be foolish enough to think he could get away with lying because of the situation he's in and the evidence that's available. So I think it's an innocent mistake and his recollection was incorrect."
Johnson has also conceded that the England management are concerned about whether Wilkinson will be available to face France, after the fly-half went for a scan on his right forearm.
"Jonny got scanned last night on his upper forearm, elbow region, " said Johnson. "That didn't show anything and while that is good news, obviously at this point in the tournament it is a little bit of a worry. We need another day to see where he is and whether he will be available for the weekend."
An update is also still awaited on Tindall's fitness. The Gloucester centre has a dead leg and, like Wilkinson, will be assessed again on Monday.
Delon Armitage will appear at disciplinary hearing in Auckland on Monday after being cited for a "dangerous high tackle" on Scotland's Chris Paterson. The offence carries a guideline suspension of between two and 10 weeks.