Rugby Union: Ban rules Healey out of Scots game

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IT WAS hardly the Monday night Austin Healey had been anticipating. Instead of discussing Calcutta Cup tactics with his England colleagues in the multi-star surroundings of the Petersham Hotel in Richmond, the Leicester Lip was counting the cost of his cheap-shot role in the now notorious Kevin Putt Affair, which unfolded before the television cameras, if not the match officials, at Welford Road on Saturday.

As expected, Healey was cited by London Irish yesterday, the Exiles accusing the Leicester scrum-half of stamping on Putt's face as his opposite number lay helpless on the ground at a 14th-minute ruck. The Tigers management promptly went into closed session and decided to suspend their 25-year- old international for 21 days, thus ruling him out of this weekend's England- Scotland Five Nations match at Twickenham and, almost certainly, his country's eagerly awaited tangle with the Irish in Dublin on 6 March.

Whether the ban was sufficient to satisfy the Rugby Football Union was a very moot point indeed. As a general rule, a stamping offence earns its perpetrator anything between three and six months on the sidelines and, as Newcastle twice found to their cost in 1997, Twickenham is perfectly prepared to intervene in disciplinary cases if a Premiership club refuses to throw a big enough book at a miscreant. "We have noted the action taken by Leicester," said Roy Manock, the RFU disciplinary officer, confirming that the union would consider holding a hearing of its own.

Healey had protested his innocence in the immediate aftermath of Saturday's game - "I lost balance; I would never kick or stamp on anyone's face," he insisted - while Putt, who had six stitches inserted into the wound opened up by his rival's right boot, settled for the "water under the bridge" approach.

London Irish officials could not find it within themselves to be so forgiving, however; an honest-to-goodness management with no reputation as serial citers, they nevertheless found the television footage far too damning to ignore.

Meanwhile, one of Healey's club-mates, Joel Stransky, was soaking up flak of a different kind. Nick Mallett, the South African national coach, aimed some sharp criticism at the former Springbok outside-half for his apparent willingness to switch his Test allegiance to England in time for this autumn's World Cup.

Mallett said he was "saddened and disturbed" by the development, adding: "I have to take it with a pinch of salt when players say it is a great honour to play for a country they have been residing in for two or three years, especially when they have played at the highest level for South Africa."

The Scots have recalled Andy Reed, the Wasps lock, and Craig Chalmers, the Edinburgh Reivers stand-off, to a 22-man squad for the Calcutta Cup match.

The former Test Lions replace the injured Doddie Weir and Duncan Hodge respectively. Jim Telfer, the Scotland coach, will not finalise his side until Thursday, but it will not include either Jamie Mayer, his exciting new centre, or Matthew Proudfoot, the outsized tight-head prop from South Africa. Both have regained full fit- ness after long lay-offs, but Telfer has sensibly resisted the temptation to rush them back.

Happily, the Twickenham crowd will not be at risk of confusing Saturday's teams with 30 members of Hiawatha's tribe within two minutes of the big kick-off.

After intense lobbying from the RFU, the tournament sponsors, Lloyds TSB, have agreed to shelve plans to paint advertising logos on the half- way line and opted instead for branding behind both sets of the posts.

In Dublin 10 days ago, wet paint in the middle of the Lansdowne Road pitch left both the Irish and French packs resembling an artist's palette.