Rugby Union: Dallaglio fined but no ban

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LAWRENCE DALLAGLIO has enjoyed better days at Twickenham; when he left the hallowed portals yesterday afternoon, his reputation bore all the signs of a trampling from the All Black pack and his wallet was a cool pounds 25,000 lighter. But it was a triumph, none the less. After three months of scandal-soaked hell, the former England captain was cleared to play in next month's World Cup. As sports people tend to say in more pleasant circumstances, he would happily have settled for such a result before kick-off.

A Rugby Football Union disciplinary tribunal, headed by Mr Justice Popplewell, of the Queen's Bench Division no less, fined the 27-year-old Wasps forward pounds 15,000 for bringing the game into disrepute and ordered him to pay pounds 10,000 towards those costs "unnecessarily incurred by reason of his lying to the inquiry panel". That was a reference to Dallaglio's earlier statement that he had never visited the Intercontinental Hotel in Johannesburg, where he was alleged to have taken ecstasy and cocaine during the Lions tour of South Africa two years ago.

Last week, Dallaglio finally conceded that he had indeed been present at the hotel; an admission that, bizarrely enough, persuaded the RFU to drop the drugs charge it had laid against him. Twickenham sources explained that by coming clean, Dallaglio had addressed serious inconsistencies between his evidence and that of other witnesses. As Richard Lissack QC, appearing on behalf of the RFU yesterday, told the panel, there was no proof that Dallaglio had indulged in drug-taking.

When the tribunal convened yesterday, Dallaglio immediately admitted the remaining disrepute charge - an accusation that stemmed from his own drink-induced revelations to two under-cover News of the World journalists who trapped him with an elaborate scam in May of this year. There was still a serious threat of suspension, which would have prevented him from appearing in the World Cup, but the panel reacted with more leniency than the defendant shows towards his opponents on the field.

"Our powers vary from doing nothing to suspension," Mr Justice Popplewell said. "Mr Dallaglio has already suffered a period of suspension voluntarily, and he gave up the captaincy of England voluntarily. We are aware of his fine record as a player and a leader. Further, there is no doubt that future sponsorship and endorsements are likely to be affected. We do not think this an appropriate case for suspension."

Uncharacteristically silent for the last three months, Dallaglio stayed mum as he left Twickenham to resume training with the England squad. But in a written statement issued a couple of hours after the hearing, he said: "Knowing you are innocent is one thing, proving it has been another. It has been a long and difficult battle, but I am content with the outcome. I would like to thank everyone who has stood by me: my family, friends, colleagues, especially Clive Woodward and the England squad, Wasps, and the thousands of members of the public who have found the time to write to me to offer their support."

Woodward, an indefatigable supporter and defender of Dallaglio from the moment the scandal hit the streets in the final week of last season, was equally upbeat. "Lawrence must now be allowed to get on with the rest of his life and his career and do everything he can to put this matter behind him," he said. "I recognise that this is a long-term objective. But it is one I believe he will achieve."

Having performed with characteristic vigour in his comeback against the United States at Twickenham five days ago, Dallaglio is certain to make Woodward's final 30 for the World Cup, which begins in Cardiff at the beginning of October. Indeed, he will go neck and neck with Martin Johnson, the Leicester lock who replaced him as captain, for the honour of being the first name on the team sheet.

One thing is for certain: his will be the first name on the Wasps team sheet. To mark the end of an extraordinary, if decidedly fraught, day in the personal history of Lawrence Dallaglio, he was appointed club captain for the second time. Not a bad double, all things considered.

Damian Hopley, the Professional Rugby Players' Association chief executive and a former England international, said: "We now hope this is the end of the matter and we can look forward to the World Cup and events on the pitch. Some important lessons have been learnt from this whole ordeal."

Strange day in `court', page 22