Ex-England star Will Carling has hit out at Austin Healey for his scathing criticism of top rugby ref Nigel Owens.
Former England international Healey had questioned whether the celebrity-status of the hugely popular Welsh official had made him “too big to referee”.
The comments, made in Healey’s column for The Telegraph, came after Owens' handling of Munster’s European Champions Cup victory over Toulon last weekend.
Toulon’s outspoken owner Mourad Boudjellal took to Twitter to vent his anger at some decisions that went against his side at Thomond Park, and Healey then saw the chance to have his say on Owens' recent performances.
He suggested that Owens, who refereed the 2015 Rugby World Cup final, was a better referee four or five years ago when he wasn’t such a well-known and popular figure in public.
Healey, who is also a television pundit for BT Sport, wrote in his Telegraph column: “There is no doubt that Nigel falls into the category of celebrity referee. No other referee comes close to matching his public profile.
“He has his own talk show. He has his own newspaper column in which he discussed Brexit this week. In fact I can’t think of a referee in any sport who has built up a profile like his and being able to pull it off.
“The problem is that once you find yourself on that pedestal then don’t be surprised if people like Mourad shoot at you.
And now, Carling, who won 72 caps for England between 1988 and 1996, has lashed out at Healey's assessment of Owens, coming to the defence of the referee.
Via his Twitter account, he took exception to Healey's 'snide and hypocritical' statement.
"Sad to see the criticism of Nigel Owens," wrote Carling.
"Vast majority comes from jealousy of a man who through hard work and mental strength (against huge odds) has made a great success of himself.
"So easy to dig when you forget the torturous path some have had to take. Bravo Nigel."
He he finally added: "Just thought it was unnecessary, snide and ever so slightly hypocritical."
His words went down well with his Twitter following too.