By Chris Hewett
Rugby's public image, comprehensively wrecked by disciplinary issues involving leading Test players and vicious outbreaks of boardroom politics, took another dent yesterday when the Welsh hierarchy suspended Mike Phillips, their Lions scrum-half, from national squad duties pending an inquiry into a small-hours incident outside a burger joint in Cardiff city centre. Oh, the glamour of it.
Phillips (right), already under a cloud in his homeland after a painfully drawn-out departure from the Ospreys regional side, was pinned to the pavement by security staff following an altercation before leaving the scene in the company of the local constabulary, although no formal complaints were made and no action taken.
The Wales coach Warren Gatland, who has announced a zero-tolerance policy on player transgressions, was said to be fully supportive of the indefinite ban imposed by the governing body.
Speaking of Phillips, who was scheduled to begin pre-World Cup training on Monday but has been ordered to stay away, the Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Roger Lewis struggled to disguise his exasperation. "The player has been suspended due to a clear breach of standards," he said.
"It is vitally important that we send out a clear and unambiguous message to one and all concerning our views on matters of this sort. By taking decisive action now we are emphasising that this sort of incident is highly unusual, in that the majority of people involved in Welsh rugby help us to maintain the proud record we have for fair play and off-the-field courtesy."
For his part, the national team manager Alan Phillips said there was "clear evidence of a level of behaviour we regard as unacceptable". It is by no means clear when the half-back will be welcomed back into the fold, although the perceived importance of a World Cup campaign is likely to mean a mid-term banishment, as opposed to a tournament-threatening one.
England's second-string Saxons, led by the Leicester No 8 Jordan Crane and featuring a small handful of candidates for the 45-man World Cup training squad due to be named on Monday, take on a Canadian XV in the final of the Churchill Cup at Worcester today. Matt Stevens, the tight-head prop from Saracens, is considered certain to make the cut.