Rugby Union: Bath front row cited over Fenn's bitten ear

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The Independent Online
London Scottish yesterday cited the entire Bath front row - Kevin Yates, Federico Mendez and Victor Ubogu - for foul play in an effort to force the West Country club into identifying the player who bit the left ear of Simon Fenn during Saturday's Tetley's Bitter Cup tie. Chris Hewett assesses the latest moves in a gruesome affair.

Appalled and embarrassed by the latest blow to an increasingly tarnished reputation, Bath were last night still steadfastly refusing to reveal which of their players was responsible for biting off part of Simon Fenn's ear during the one-point cup victory over London Scottish at the weekend. "The evidence we have so far is inconclusive," insisted Tony Swift, the Bath chief executive.

Inconclusive? Simon Fenn, the Exiles' 26-year-old flanker from Australia, would have been darkly amused by Swift's comment as he faced the press yesterday with a turban of bandages on his head and some 25 stitches in his left ear. "I'm pretty certain who it was and I hope they come forward," he said.

Thanks to Bath's prevarication, the current list of suspects is at the moment precisely three times longer than it should be. Frustrated by their opponents failure to act quickly and decisively over an act of gross foul play, the Londoners cited the entire Bath front row to the Rugby Football Union. The move put the England international props, Kevin Yates and Victor Ubogu, and Federico Mendez, the Argentinian World Cup hooker, in the dock - no laughing matter for the two innocent parties.

"London Scottish have exercised their right, within the seven-day time limit, to deliver a citing against the Bath front row," Terry Burwell, the RFU's director of Twickenham services, said yesterday. "Bath must respond by Friday and the citing hearing will take place as soon as possible." However, that was not the extent of Burwell's comments. He added, astonishingly, that "the onus was on London Scottish to prove to the RFU disciplinary panel which player was responsible.''

By saying that, Burwell raised the possibility of the culprit getting off scot - or Scottish - free. Video evidence has so far failed to produce a water-tight identification and with the expanding population of sports solicitors scenting a possible financial killing, the complainants were reluctant last night to push the boat out any further.

"I'm disgusted by the incident and, as a business, we will want compensation," said Richard Yerbury, the London Scottish chief executive who, ironically enough, lives just outside Bath and within a mile of Swift, his opposite number. "We are a business and I expect Simon to be out for between four and six weeks at best.

"We have a good idea who did it but for legal reasons, we won't say. We have sent player statements and the videos to the RFU and now it is up to them to decide whatever the punishment will be. We hope that Bath will come to a decision quickly so we can put the whole thing behind us.''

Fenn, who was making his senior debut for the Exiles after being lured from top-grade rugby in Sydney, may yet need plastic surgery and was due to consult a specialist today. "There is a huge risk of infection and that could make the healing time a lot longer," he said last night.

"I have never experienced anything like that on a rugby field and initially, it was a shock. You can't protect yourself from anything when you are at the bottom of a pack. Yes, I'm surprised he hasn't come forward. For the sake of his club, his sponsors and his team-mates you would have though he'd have done so.''

Swift insisted that Bath were not evading responsibilities by prolonging their internal investigation. "We feel it would be dreadfully irresponsible of us to enter into any speculation as to the nature of the incident before we have been able to examine all the available evidence.''

He added that club officials were in close contact with the authorities, that video evidence was being reviewed and that players were still being questioned. However, the delay in taking tangible steps against the perpetrator continued to make a mockery of Bath's current advertising and marketing catchphrase: "A higher class of rugby."

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