Rugby prop denies blame

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The Independent Online
A young rugby player alleged to have collapsed the scrum which resulted in the paralysis of an opponent yesterday denied any responsibility for his injury.

Ben Smoldon, 21, is claiming pounds 1m damages for the 1991 accident during a game between Sutton Coldfield and Burton on Trent under-19 Colts, which left him confined to a wheelchair.

Mr Smoldon, of Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, a hooker, claims the referee, Michael Nolan, and Burton's tight head prop, Thomas Whitworth, were to blame. He alleges that Mr Nolan did not take proper control of the match, and that Mr Whitworth was aggressive and contributed to the collapse of the scrums by taking the players' shoulders below hip height. He believes his injury was caused by Mr Whitworth moving out of position.

Mr Whitworth, 22, of Lower Leigh, Staffordshire, told Mr Justice Curtis that Mr Smoldon came into the scrums with a "forceful" attitude.

He said that Mr Nolan offered advice during the match on how to maintain a stable scrummage: "He told us `Be careful. Use common sense. Crouch, touch, pause, engage. Use due care while engaging. Keep the scrums high'."

He said he was told that Mr Smoldon was hooking the ball in the scrum with his left hand rather than his feet. Because of that, he held Mr Smoldon's hand during a few scrums, but did not do so in the one in which he was injured. All he could remember of that scrum - which collapsed almost at once - was himself, the rest of his front row and Mr Smoldon on the floor.

Immediately before its collapse he maintained his normal scrummage position. He dismissed as "untrue" suggestions put by his counsel, Christopher Symons QC, that he had deliberately collapsed or lowered the scrums, head-butted or punched an opponent or dropped his left shoulder and "bored in" towards Mr Smoldon.

Mr Symons: "During this collapse, or immediately after, or after the match and in the weeks that followed, did anyone point a finger of blame at you?"

Mr Whitworth: "No sir."

The hearing continues today.

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