Long departs Tri-Nations tour amid betting rumours

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The Independent Online

Sean Long is on his way home from Great Britain's Tri-Nations tour, with the team management adamantly denying it is for disciplinary reasons. Long caught a flight out of Sydney late yesterday afternoon, with the Lions coach, Brian Noble, insisting he had left at his own request for personal reasons. Long's wife, Claire, is in the latter stages of pregnancy, although that was not seen as a problem earlier in the trip.

"She is a couple of weeks away from giving birth and that's been weighing on Sean's mind," Noble said. "We are fully convinced by what he said to us all and we have allowed him to go home.'' The St Helens coach, Daniel Anderson, said that the club will stand by Long.

"When a person says personal reasons, just about everyone seems to try and scratch around the surface because they don't believe it," he said. "But I am totally supportive of him. If we were not to support him and he has got genuine personal reasons - as I think he has - then I think this club would be condemned. I'm certainly supportive of him in his decision and his reasoning. I've got an idea what the reasons are but it's not for me to comment on. There isn't any scandal."

The Great Britain coach denied Long's departure had anything to do with allegations of gambling that are circulating in Sydney. Long has form in these matters; he was fined £10,000 and suspended for three months in 2004 when, with his then St Helens team-mate Martin Gleeson, he was found guilty of betting on a Saints game in which he knew they wouldfield a weakened team at Bradford.

"That is completely away from the truth,'' said Noble of the new round of betting rumours. He also denied that Long's departure from the squad was related to his behaviour on the flight from Wellington to Sydney on Sunday. Long and two other players are alleged to have been drinking heavily - one couple asked to move seats as a result - but no complaint was made to the team's management.

The tour manager, Abi Ekoku, said there had been no alcohol ban for the players to be in breach of. "There are no disciplinary issues at all,'' he added. "We never received any complaint from anyone on the plane and he hasn't been kicked out of the squad.''

Noble did speak to the players at one stage but denied that had anything to do with Long's decision to leave. "My views were known, their views were known and that was the end of the matter as far as I am concerned," he said. "Anything that I do within the squad is between me and the squad and there were no bollockings dished out.''

No replacement for Long is to be called up so Noble's options for Saturday's game against Australia in Brisbane, which Great Britain must win to reach the Tri-Nations final, are limited to playing Rob Burrow or Richard Horne at scrum-half or moving Danny McGuire from stand-off.