Flashback: England’s 16th man

Date published: October 26 2016

In the latest edition of our series, we look back at this week in history and pick out a key moment from rugby’s archives.

Today we go back to England’s road to Rugby World Cup glory back in 2003, and an incident that saw them threatened with a points deduction.

October 26, 2003

Let’s start with the short version: in the closing minutes of injury time between England’s match against Samoa at the Rugby World Cup, they had 16 players on the field.

Mike Tindall was down receiving treatment when England sent on Dan Luger. In the space of 30 seconds, Luger managed to make a tackle and give away a penalty, before being sent back to the sidelines.

Referee Jonathan Kaplan, standing there perplexed, arms outstretched, ushered Luger back to the touchline and shortly after the match was over – although the fallout certainly was not.

Luger it turned out had been sent onto the field by assistant coach Dave Reddin, on instruction from head coach Clive Woodward up in the stands, without the permission of the fourth official Brett Bowden.

No substitution was supposed to be made until Tindall had left the field, yet England went ahead and sent Luger on.

On top of that was an extra misconduct charge levelled against Reddin as a result of a heated discussion that supposedly took place on the sideline between Reddin and assistant referee Steve Walsh.

The threat of a five-figure fine loomed over England, but even worse than that was the prospect of a points deduction, which could have severly affected whether England advanced from Pool C into the quarter-finals in top spot – and therefore with the supposedly easier draw in the last eight.

Due to face Uruguay in Brisbane on the weekend, Woodward, Luger, Reddin and scrum-half Andy Gomarsall were all asked to attend a hearing at a Sydney law firm, which lasted four hours.


Despite the enthusiasm from certain corners for England to be deducted points, or even thrown out of the tournament, the end result was as follows: a £10,000 fine, and a two-match touchline ban for conditioning coach Reddin.

Former Australia hooker Phil Kearns summed up the punishment to the UK Daily Telegraph by saying: “That’s about what the RFU spend on tea and biscuits every afternoon.”

The issue was less the fact that England had 16 players on the field against 15 for Samoa, but the fact “that the directions of the match official were ignored”, according to the independent judicial officer, Irish lawyer Brian McLoughlin.

The distraction of a hearing in Sydney aside, England went on to defeat Uruguay 111-13, with Luger among the try scorers.

From there they advanced through the knockout stages to defeat the tournaments hosts Australia in extra time to win their first Rugby World Cup.

The scorers:

For England:
Tries: Back, Penalty Try, Balshaw, Vickery
Cons: Wilkinson 3
Pens: Wilkinson 2
Drop Goal: Wilkinson

For Samoa:
Tries: Sititi
Cons: Va’a
Pens: Va’a 5

England: 15 Jason Robinson, 14 Iain Balshaw, 13 Stuart Abbott, 12 Mike Tindall, 11 Ben Cohen, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Matt Dawson, 8 Lawrence Dallaglio, 7 Neil Back, 6 Joe Worsley, 5 Ben Kay, 4 Martin Johnson, 3 Julian White, 2 Mark Regan, 1 Jason Leonard
Replacements: 16 Steve Thompson, 17 Phil Vickery, 18 Martin Corry, 19 Lewis Moody, 20 Andy Gomarsall, 21 Mike Catt, 22 Dan Luger

Samoa: 15 Tanner Vili, 14 Lome Fa’atau, 13 Terry Fanolua, 12 Brian Lima, 11 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10 Earl Va’a, 9 Steve So’oialo, 8 Semo Sititi, 7 Maurie Fa’asavalu, 6 Peter Poulos, 5 Leo Lafaiali’i, 4 Opeta Palepoi, 3 Jeremy Tomuli, 2 Jonathan Meredith, 1 Kas Lealamanu’a
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Simon Lemalu, 18 Kitiona Viliamu, 19 Des Tuiali’i, 20 Denning Tyrell, 21 Dale Rasmussen, 22 Dom Feau’nati

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)