Rugby ref `had no control of game'

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The Independent Online
A rugby player who was paralysed when he broke his neck as a scrummage collapsed told the High Court yesterday that the referee exerted no control over the game.

Ben Smoldon, 21, who is now tetraplegic and confined to a wheelchair, is suing the referee, Michael Nolan, and an opposing prop forward, Thomas Whitworth, for pounds 1m damages. He said Mr Nolan failed to control the game and should have read the riot act to both packs in the "grudge match" between Sutton Coldfield and Burton on Trent, on 19 October 1991.

When asked whether the tragic incident was just a "one in a million accident", as he had described to reporters soon afterwards, he replied: "I feel it could have been avoided."

Mr Smoldon, who was playing hooker, said: "There was a degree of charging, I was taken along with it by the other players. I can recall turning round to my pack after the second scrummage, before the third scrummage when I injured myself, and telling them to calm things down because I was concerned . . . " But he added: "I don't recall any occasion when [Mr Nolan] spoke to the front row."

This was contradicted, however, by Mr Nolan's counsel Richard Davies QC, who said: "I suggest that there were a proper and adequate number of occasions that Mr Nolan did talk to the front rows and explained to them what it was he required them to do."

Mr Smoldon's version of events in the scrum was backed up his teammate Hywel Jopling, who played loose head prop. He said his opposite number, Mr Whitworth, had not allowed him to scrum down properly.

Describing the actual incident in which his colleague was injured, he said: "I went to engage with my opposite number and there was no push. The ball was put in, but I didn't have any resistance so I fell to the floor. As I was sitting up I saw Ben fall back on the ground and that is when we realised he had been badly injured."

The hearing continues today.

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