RUGBY UNION: Dallaglio facing an extended lay-off

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The Independent Online
AS RUGBY continues to trip, stumble and sprawl into the new season this weekend, two prominent players will definitely not be in the starting line-ups of their respective clubs. Lawrence Dallaglio and Francois Pienaar will have an extended and unwelcome break from the action, whether it is sanctioned or otherwise.

Dallaglio, the sometime England captain, not only misses Wasps' first Allied Dunbar Premiership game away to Bath, but more ominously for his club and his country, further fixtures. Dallaglio, 26, deliberately stayed at home when England went on their ill-fated tour to the Southern Hemisphere, ceding his captaincy to Northampton's Matt Dawson in order to rest a chronic shoulder problem.

His last match was the cup final in early May. The England back row forward had given no hint of his problems but yesterday Nigel Melville, Wasps' Director of Rugby, said: "Lawrence has not yet started contact work in training and will miss our opening fixtures."

Coincidentally Pienaar, player-coach of Wasps' cup conquerors Saracens, could be out for a similar length of time. He has just undergone arthroscopy on his left knee which means he is ruled out of his side's home match against Northampton. The former Springbok captain said yesterday: "I needed keyhole surgery on a minor knee problem and I will not be in action until later in the month."

Meanwhile, the Rugby Football Union's latest sortie into Blunderland was a crass attempt to gag referees after matches. Nick Bunting, the RFU's National Referee Development Officer, pronounced an edict that, judging by the stunned looks on the faces of Twickenham officials, came from the blindside.

The RFU does not want referees to express opinions or make comments about games in unguarded moments in public and they will be prevented from doing so. After Bunting's pronouncement there was an immediate climbdown with Twickenham saying that they would publish the reasons for players having been consigned to the sin bin during a match, a new initiative which starts this week.

But there will be no possibility of a referee making a comment about a specific controversial incident in a game in which he has officiated, not even to provide the attendant media with a factual explanation, which will expose referees to the potential of unfair criticism based on inaccurate assessments.

In addition, and in compliance with a request from the clubs, directors of rugby and coaches are to be prohibited from criticising referees after a match. There were two notable occasions last season when referees came under fire from prominent club officials and went unpunished, despite the clubs having earlier published a code of conduct embracing this very issue. If anyone transgresses this code they face disciplinary action from the RFU.

At the same time, on the political front, the wrangling continues. The knotty problem of the unofficial Anglo-Welsh fixtures refuses to go away. A strategic meeting was held yesterday prior to today's RFU management board meeting at headquarters, to consider a raft of options and prepare for discussions with the clubs over a possible compromise.

As of this moment the Allied Dunbar Premiership One clubs intend to play the two disaffected Welsh clubs, Cardiff and Swansea, who have seceded from their domestic league competition, on the same Saturday that the rest of the Division One teams fulfil their Premiership fixtures.

The RFU feels this affects the integrity of the Premiership and wants to avoid the possibility of the Welsh clubs being regarded as an integral part of the Allied Dunbar Premiership.

Terry Burwell, who is responsible for domestic competitions in his remit as Director of Twickenham services, admitted yesterday: "There is no doubt that the Bedford v Cardiff match will go ahead, as will Swansea's at home to West Hartlepool. But the RFU will not be providing match officials, nor will they undertake to insure against public liability."

In effect the RFU is outlawing the Anglo-Welsh friendlies.

n England's Chris Sheasby is confident his team can win gold at the Commonwealth Games Sevens in Kuala Lumpur later this month.

"This group of players are brimming under the lid ready to boil over," he said yesterday.

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