Rugby Union: Beer in lather over violence in domestic game: RFU president sends strongly worded message to clubs suggesting foul play be severely punished

Click to follow
The Independent Online
AFTER his many pious words about foul play during the recent All Blacks tour, the figurehead of English rugby turned his cleansing attention to the domestic game yesterday. In a special message for Christmas, Ian Beer, the president of the Rugby Football Union, suggested that the perpetrators should be ostracised, sent off, disciplined and dropped, though not necessarily in that order.

His strongly worded letter to all 2,000 clubs in membership of the RFU is Beer's earnest attempt to ensure that the strictures that were applied to the New Zealanders have equal force on the home front. The headmasterly tone is not surprising: he is a retired head of Harrow and the other day was lecturing rugby writers that they should accentuate the positive in their reports.

Formerly of Bath and Harlequins, he played twice at No 8 for England in 1955. The obvious implication is that if a modern-day England player was guilty of something akin to the infamous off-the-ball stamp by New Zealand's Jamie Joseph on Kyran Bracken's ankle, he would be subject to all four of the above.

Nor would the RFU adopt the All Blacks approach of saying it was doing something but not saying what. 'I know from recent experience that our laws do not always give sufficient support,' Beer said. 'So the RFU is considering ways both of better enforcing current laws and of altering laws, but we cannot rely only on the law.'

It would be a considerable start if the RFU could persuade the International Board to establish uniform guidelines on precisely what constitutes legitimate rucking - the biggest bone of contention between the British Isles and New Zealand and perfectly illustrated when Phil de Glanville needed 15 stitches around an eye after being 'rucked' in the South-West v All Blacks game.

Despite the RFU's powerful protest, the tour management called it an accident - at which point the complaint laid down and died. A subsequent meeting between the RFU, headed by Beer, and the NZ management got nowhere beyond a statement of the obvious 'deploring' use of the boot.

We can be sure that the rest of Beer's letter implicitly relates to the tour incidents, as well as eye-gouging allegations against Bath which have followed the All Blacks' departure. 'All of us in positions of responsibility - especially captains - must inspire all players to practise restraint,' Beer went on.

'We all know what is acceptable. Let us have the courage to stand up and preserve our game. It was always assumed that someone who played rugby knew where to draw the line.

'Our game is a tough, body-contact sport. That is part of its attraction. But the few players who appear to go out of their way to maim, to remove players from the field, should be ostracised by other players, sent off by referees, disciplined by coaches and captains and not picked by selection committees.'

The All Blacks did the latter to Joseph without letting on and have rightly been pilloried for it since going home. At the same time English rugby has to be careful about being too sanctimonious. After all it was their own Dean Richards who kicked Frank Bunce in the head when the Lions played North Harbour last May and Wade Dooley whose punch perforated Doddie Weir's eardrum when England played Scotland in 1992.

Though British rugby has probably never been less dirty, it has also never been more exposed; hence Beer's proper concern for its image. 'If any of us condones such behaviour we help to destroy rugby as we know it,' he concluded, 'and parents of the next generation might not allow their children to play.'

Scottish Life Assurance Company, which numbers the Lions coach, Ian McGeechan, among its executives, announced yesterday that it would sponsor the Wales- Scotland game in Cardiff on 15 January for ' pounds 50,000-plus'.

The French wingers, Philippe Saint-Andre and Patrice Lagisquet, who has not played international rugby for nearly three years, are in the Barbarians team for the match against Leicester on 28 December. There are two uncapped Welsh players: the scrum-half Robert Howley and the No 8 Steve Williams.

BARBARIANS (v Leicester, 28 Dec): M Rayer (Cardiff and Wales); P Saint-Andre (Montferrand and France), P de Glanville (Bath and England), S Hastings (Watsonians and Scotland), P Lagisquet (Bayonne and France); C Chalmers (Melrose and Scotland), R Howley (Cardiff); M Griffiths (Cardiff and Wales), A Lamerton (Llanelli and Wales), E McKenzie (Paris University and Australia), P Johns (Dungannon and Ireland), A McDonald (Heriot's FP and Scotland), R Wainwright (Edinburgh Academicals and Scotland), S Williams (Neath), A Robinson (Bath and England).