Exeter and England wing Jack Nowell has been hit with a misconduct charge after criticising a referee on social media.
The Rugby Football Union said that Nowell had been charged with conduct prejudicial to the interests of the Union and the game.
Nowell, who is currently sidelined through injury, spoke out on Twitter after his Chiefs colleague Olly Woodburn received a second yellow card and was sent off during Exeter’s 62-19 Gallagher Premiership defeat against Leicester on Sunday.
Woodburn, who had earlier been sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on, collected another yellow from referee Karl Dickson for diving on Tigers wing Chris Ashton on the floor in an attempt to prevent a try after Chiefs full-back Stuart Hogg had tackled Ashton.
Dickson awarded a penalty try, which meant another yellow – and therefore a red card – for Woodburn as Exeter collapsed to a landslide defeat.
Nowell and two Exeter team-mates who were also not involved in the game – fellow England internationals Luke Cowan-Dickie and Henry Slade – vented their feelings.
Cowan-Dickie tweeted that “rugby had lost the plot”, while Slade said “I have no words”, but Nowell criticised Dickson in a since-deleted tweet: “I’m actually in shock, like shock shocked. What the hell is happening? That’s one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen. EVER”.
The RFU said: “Jack Nowell, Exeter Chiefs, has been charged with conduct prejudicial to the interests of the Union and the game under RFU rule 5.12 for Tweeted criticism of the referee’s decision in the Leicester Tigers v Exeter Chiefs match on 16 April, to his 61,000 plus followers.
“The case will be heard tomorrow evening (Wednesday 19 April) by an independent disciplinary panel chaired by Matthew O’Grady, sitting with Martyn Wood and Guy Lovgreen.”
Even if he recovers from injury in time, any period of suspension could sideline Nowell, who has captained Exeter in recent weeks, from Chiefs’ Heineken Champions Cup semi-final against La Rochelle in Bordeaux on April 30.
Nowell is set to leave Exeter at the end of this season, with La Rochelle his likely destination.