LONDON • England's failed World Cup campaign hit a new low as rugby chiefs investigated an alleged illegal approach to match-day officials during their defeat by Australia on Saturday.
Talk of rifts in the England camp and speculation over who could replace coach Stuart Lancaster added to the sense of crisis after they were dumped out of the tournament in the first round.
According to media reports, two members of England's coaching staff approached match officials as England and Australia players went off the field at half-time in their 13-33 loss.
"World Rugby is investigating an alleged breach by the England coaching team of the match-day communications protocol between match officials and team members or union officials," said a statement by the governing body on Monday.
The protocol prohibits "coaches approaching match officials during a match or at half-time".
Media reports said there is CCTV footage from the tunnel where the alleged incident took place.
There was a "robust" discussion in the tunnel after French referee Romain Poite penalised the English scrum three times in the first half, The Times reported.
"They have been in contact with us, wanting to speak to us, but I don't know what the process will be," said England's assistant coach Andy Farrell, who refused to comment further.
Australia coach Michael Cheika received a formal warning this year after he approached referee Jaco Peyper at half-time during his New South Wales Waratahs' Super Rugby win over the Blues in Sydney.
Farrell, whose son Owen Farrell was one of the few good performers for England, had to fight off questions about his role in England's downfall at a press conference.
Media reports have spoken of players feeling that Farrell had too much influence in Lancaster's team selection and were uneasy about Rugby League convert Sam Burgess getting a place so soon.
"Four of us as coaches get together and have a selection meeting. You put your two pennies' worth in and Stuart makes the call and we all buy into that. It's unanimous," Farrell said of selection decisions.
He said Burgess had "worked unbelievably hard and continued to work very hard to make his stamp and give his all for the team".
He added that there is "devastation in the camp" over defeats by Wales and Australia that led to the historic exit.
But he defended Lancaster. "I think what Stuart has built here is more than those two defeats," said Farrell. "Three and a half years under Stuart has been built on solid foundations.
"He has done marvellous things for this country and this rugby team. He is the hardest-working Englishman that I have ever met."
When asked about the future of the coaching team, he said: "The process will take its place and will be taken out of our hands. This team are a young team and they will go places and win trophies. We all want to be part of that but it is out of our hands."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN