ENGLAND scrum-half Ben Youngs has defended under-fire team-mate Manu Tuilagi by laughing off his infamous leap from an Auckland ferry boat as nothing more than “a bit of banter”.
Samoan-born centre Tuilagi was fined £3,000 and warned about his future conduct by embattled England manager Martin Johnson for the incident which saw the 20-year-old repirmanded by Auckland police for jumping from a ferry into the harbour.
Youngs was among a clutch of England players to have touched down at Heathrow yesterday – the remainder of the squad will land today – and attempted to play down the severity of Tuilagi’s (right) offence, which represented the final blot on England’s copy book following a month of scandal and disappointing performances.
He said: “You know perhaps that is another incident where it is not that big a deal, but of course, naturally, it is going to come out like that because we are in the public eye.
“I feel sorry for Manu, he is a 20-year-old kid, he just jumped off [the ferry] for a bit of banter and swam 10 metres in – it is hard for me to comment about because I was not there but the tournament was done and dusted by then.”
Johnson, meanwhile, must wait until the RFU conclude their review into England’s dismal World Cup campaign – which ended tamely at the quarter-final stage against France on Saturday – to find out whether he will be retained beyond December, when his current contract expires.
The former World Cup winning skipper has come under intense scrutiny as a result of England’s insipid displays, but he would appear to have the complete support of his players.
“You ask any of the players that were out there. Johnno is definitely the man and, hopefully, the RFU will keep him on,” added Youngs.
But several of his former team-mates, including Jeremy Guscott, believe Johnson should pay the price for England’s failure to reach the last four.
Guscott said: “If this was a business decision Martin Johnson would be unlikely to continue. As a player he was all about winning and in that regard he’s come up short.”
THE BREAKDOWN | WORLD CUP BRIEFS
MULIAINA OUT FOR ALL BLACKS
NEW ZEALAND backs Colin Slade and Mils Muliaina have been ruled out of the rest of the World Cup. The All Blacks have reacted by calling up Bath’s new recruit Stephen Donald. Slade had become first choice fly-half after the tournament hosts lost Dan Carter but he suffered a groin tear in Sunday’s 33-10 quarter-final victory over Argentina. Muliaina, meanwhile, fractured his shoulder and failed to re-appear after half-time in what was his 100th – and now last – Test appearance. “They are very disappointed to be leaving the group at this stage of the tournament. It’s a difficult situation,” said New Zealand coach Graham Henry. “Hosea Gear and Stephen Donald joined the team yesterday.”
ROLLAND TO REFEREE WALES
ALAIN ROLLAND will referee the opening World Cup semi-final between Wales and France in Auckland on Saturday. Irishman Rolland, who took charge of the World Cup final when South Africa beat England in Paris four years ago, will have England’s Wayne Barnes and South African Jonathan Kaplan as his assistants.
AUSSIES COUNT ON COOPER
AUSTRALIA coach Robbie Deans is adamant that under-fire fly-half Quade Cooper will have a decisive say in the destination of the World Cup. The Wallabies No10 was again some way short of his best against South Africa on Sunday, but Deans continues to have faith in the Queensland Reds playmaker. “Clearly he wouldn’t have been happy with his performance on Sunday but everyone made mistakes,” Deans said. “Some of our best made mistakes but they collectively worked their way through it. Quade’s a resilient character and he’ll bounce back.”