Rugby League: Hemel brawlers bowled over

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The Independent Online
THE LEAGUE has handed out some of its heaviest suspensions over a brawl in an Academy match which could result in criminal proceedings and has already brought accusations of racial abuse.

Derek March of Hemel Hempstead has been banned until September 2000 after being found guilty of returning to the field after being sent off and kicking an opponent in the head during the match against York earlier this month.

Five other players, three from Hemel and two from York, have been banned until the end of September this year. One from Hemel has been suspended for nine games and, of the eight sent off in total, a further York player has had his case deferred because he is on holiday.

"It was an extremely serious incident and the suspensions reflect our concern," the Rugby League's spokesman, John Huxley, said.

York's first-team coach, Dean Robinson, who was at the game, described it as an "unsavoury incident." He said: "I don't think that, as a club, we have any problems with the punishments that have been dished out. It was an incident that quickly developed into something it shouldn't have done because of people outside the playing strength getting involved."

The York first-teamer Mark Cain, who was acting as a water carrier for the under-18 side, which included his brother, is pursuing a civil and criminal case against a Hemel player and another person from the club. Robinson himself went on to the field in his capacity as a detective sergeant in the police. "It had become a public order rather than a rugby league matter and I was doing my best to keep certain factions apart," he said.

However, Hemel are claiming that March was subjected to severe provocation. The club's development manager, Abe Kerr, said: "Several members of our party say that he was the subject of persistent racial abuse throughout the match, but we have to respect the Rugby League's punishments and we can't condone this sort of thing, from either side."

Apart from the individual suspensions and any possible court cases, both clubs can face collective punishments for their parts in the brawl.

In rather more routine cases, Bramley's Anthony Gibbons has been banned for two matches for punching, whilst Ian Blease of Swinton has escaped suspension for a reckless high tackle.

Reading want to stage a match in the Lincoln Financial Group World Cup at their Madejski Stadium next year. "They have approached us and we are encouraging the idea," said Huxley. The likely fixture next autumn would be the group match between Wales and New Zealand.

Wales' other games are likely to be in the Principality, but a venue midway between there and the expatriate Kiwi community in London could be the way to maximise the attendance.