Rugby Union: Aggrieved Brive told to meet commitments

The unhappy rugby players of Brive, still licking wounds resulting from brawls with Pontypridd on and off the pitch, were yesterday ordered to play their Heineken Cup match at Bath this weekend. Chris Hewett reports
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The reigning European champions may not feel like playing, but play they must. Their attempt to force a postponement of Saturday's Pool C confrontation at the Recreation Ground had received short shrift from annoyed Bath officials and, when the directors of European Rugby Cup Ltd met in emergency session in Dublin yesterday, they took a similar line.

Brive had cited injuries sustained by three of their international players - Philippe Carbonneau, Christophe Lamaison and David Venditti - claiming each had been hurt during the now infamous bar-room brawl with their Welsh visitors on Sunday night. The argument cut no ice whatsoever and, much to Bath's relief, the sell-out fixture was declared on after the briefest of discussions.

The longer-term issues arising from the weekend excesses were proving rather more taxing, however. With Brive threatening to pull out of the return fixture with Pontypridd, scheduled to take place at Sardis Road on Saturday week, the board members found themselves between a rock and a hard place as they endeavoured to find a course of action that would both satisfy calls for tough sanctions and keep the tournament on an even keel.

Officials of both miscreant clubs were giving their sides of the sorry story to board members, while Eddie Jones, the Ponty manager, held out an olive branch to Brive by assuring them of a genuine welcome in 10 days' time. "There will be no animosity," he said. "We will be looking for a fair and good match.

"What happened during last weekend's match was unfortunate, as was the subsequent fracas. It was a very rough game - the players need to look at themselves to see what can be learned - and the bar melee came about through the ill-feeling on the field."

Much-needed uplifting news for the world of rugby is that Jonah Lomu, the All Black wing who ran roughshod over everything in front of him at the 1995 World Cup, has finally been given the go-ahead to play again after a long absence due to illness.

John Mayhew, his team doctor, said yesterday that Lomu was now available for any level of the game and it was up to his provincial team, Counties- Manukau, to decide when they wanted him back in action.

Counties-Manukau officials confirmed that Lomu had been named as a reserve for a First Division match against Otago on Sunday and was likely to be used off the bench. They said he may also play for the B team the previous day.

Through his astounding feats at the last World Cup in South Africa, Lomu became rugby union's biggest attraction. He has not played this season because of a chronic kidney disorder for which he received intensive drug treatment. He was cleared to resume training in early August.

"He's in no danger of testing positive for any substance now," Dr Mayhew said. "He is about 117kg and looking fairly good at this stage. He can play rugby at any level that he wants to play, and it's up to him and his team advisers and selectors."

Lomu's clearance to play followed a medical examination on Tuesday. His manager, Phil Kingsley-Jones, said Lomu was excited at the prospect of returning. "He's like a little boy with a box of candies. It'll be absolutely marvellous to see him return," Kingsley-Jones said.

Good news for rugby fans here - if not for the players who will have to confront him - is that it now appears he will tour Britain with the All Blacks in November and December.

We may not, however, have the chance to watch Jason Little. He could miss Australia's internationals against England and Scotland in November as well as his country's tour of Argentina next month, so he can be fully fit for next season.

The experienced centre had surgery last week to remove a piece of floating cartilage in his right knee, which hampered him throughout last season. He has been advised not to run for the next two weeks.