Rugby World Cup 2011: Johnson reprimands trio, defends Tindall

England manager Martin Johnson has reprimanded three players for making inappropriate comments to a female hotel worker.

James Haskell, Dylan Hartley and Chris Ashton were made to formally apologise.

The incident occurred in the days before England moved from Dunedin to Queenstown, where a night out by some players also hit the headlines.

Johnson also defended captain Mike Tindall's conduct, denying he had covered up details of that night out.

After his trademark defiance over the 'Dwarfgate' and 'Ballgate' controversies, Martin Johnson appeared worn down and uncomfortable at his hastily arranged press conference in Auckland, as he was grilled on these latest headlines.

England have a quarter-final to look forward to, but the behaviour of their players has become a serious distraction, and raises questions over the coach's ability to maintain discipline in his squad.

Johnson deserves better, while the French must be rubbing their hands in glee.

England must now prepare to face France in the quarter-finals next Saturday against the backdrop of more negative headlines.

The Sunday Mirror reports  hotel worker Annabel Newton as claiming Haskell, Hartley and Ashton humiliated her with comments.

England manager Johnson said: "I was angry with them.

"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 had no idea how upset she subsequently became.

"The guys formally apologised. They were shocked when they understood how upset she had become.

"We investigated the facts fully. They have been disciplined. 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."

Johnson defended Tindall's conduct after his captain's explanation of a night out in Queenstown - following the 13-9 win over Argentina on 10 September - were found to be inaccurate.

If Tindall was inaccurate in his recollection of the events of the night and his specific whereabouts, he certainly didn't mean to mislead anyone. It was not an orchestrated cover-up

Martin Johnson England manager

After CCTV pictures of Tindall with a woman in a bar were published in newspapers, the England skipper denied claims he had gone to a second bar with the woman.

However, the Mail on Sunday  published further photos this weekend, which showed him in a second bar.

Johnson said any misleading information Tindall gave as to his whereabouts that night was a simple mistake.

"If he was inaccurate in his recollection of the events of the night and his specific whereabouts, he certainly didn't mean to mislead anyone. It was not an orchestrated cover-up," Johnson said.

"It was simply an error on his behalf which he apologises for."

Asked whether he would consider sending Tindall home, Johnson added: "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."