Rob Howley has questioned the integrity of France’s coaching staff and claims rugby was brought into disrepute during Wales’ controversial Six Nations defeat in Paris on Saturday.
An extraordinary 20 minutes of added time were played at Stade de France due to an accumulation of stoppages, including the return to the field of prop Rabah Slimani in place of Uini Atonio, who ostensibly went off to undergo a Head Injury Assessment (HIA) amid apparent concussion concerns.
Howley, though, is adamant the change in personnel was engineered by the hosts to gain an advantage, Les Bleus duly crossing right at the death to win it 20-18.
“Integrity in our game is pretty important,” a furious Howley told reporters after the match.
“Player welfare is equally important and over the last two or three years, concussion has been at the forefront of our game.
“[But] what happened in the last moments of that game, shouldn’t ever happen again. The process that saw the French tighthead [Atonio] come off was hugely disappointing.
“[Slimani was] warming up prior to him going back on. One of the coaches had a word with their doctor and within a minute of that their tighthead [Atonio] went off. The evidence suggests that it’s not in the integrity of our game.”
Asked whose integrity he was questioning, Howley replied: “I think the integrity of the French management team. Wayne Barnes is a referee and he’s told a HIA needs to take place, he trusts that information.”
Pressed on whether or not the incident amounted to cheating, he said: “No, I just question the integrity of the decision that was made. If you want to call it that, it’s up to you. We love our game but what we witnessed in the last 10 minutes, I haven’t seen that before in the international game.
“Someone has come outside the technical area and the doctor has gone onto the field. That’s outside the laws of the game. You can hear Wayne Barnes ask him if he’s okay and the player says ‘I’ve got a sore back, I’m okay’ and then the doctor comes on and the player goes off.
“It’s too early to talk about sanctions. You can imagine the emotional attachment at this time. I don’t know what can be done. The integrity of the game has been brought into disrepute.”
What. A. Finish.
Camille Chat burrows over to break Wales’ resistance
— RBS 6 Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 18, 2017
For his part, France coach Guy Noves insisted the home team’s coaches were merely exercising their duty of care over Atonio.
“They told me he was injured so I had to do my responsibilities,” he said.
“Also, if you look closely, Wales made several substitutions in that time. Well I don’t really know how he is right now.
“We’ll do a medical check-up obviously. I hope the injury is not too serious and he will be able to play soon.
“We’ve just won a match against a splendid Welsh team. If the injury is not life-threatening, we want to celebrate.”
The furore over Slimani’s reintroduction was not the only controversy, with Howley also adamant George North had been bitten by an opponent late in the contest.
“The evidence suggests there is a bite,” he said.
“The referee only had one angle. I’m sure you can ask George if you can have a look at his arm. There is evidence to suggest that there is a bite.”
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