Rugby Union: Drama goes on as Yates awaits verdict

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The Independent Online
Kevin Yates, the Bath prop accused of biting Simon Fenn's ear, yesterday faced a Rugby Football Union disciplinary panel at Twickenham.

Chris Hewett reports.

The sorry story of Simon Fenn's ear was turning into a saga of Homeric proportions yesterday as Kevin Yates turned up at Twickenham to answer allegations of ear-biting. When the highly rated 26-year-old prop was summoned to face the music he could hardly have expected it to drag on like a Wagner opera, but as darkness fell over south-west London last night there was still no sign of an end to his ordeal.

The proceedings, chaired by Michael Burton QC in the company of two Rugby Football Union management board members, Jonathan Dance and Brian Baister, began at 9.30 in the morning. Yates and Fenn, the London Scottish flanker he was accused of assaulting, were there from the off, as were the rest of the Bath pack who played in the fateful Tetley's Bitter Cup match at the Rec on 10 January.

After nine hours of considering medical evidence, hearing witness statements and conducting cross-examinations, the panel were a "long way short of a verdict", in the words of Richard Prescott, the RFU director of communications. "The hearing went straight through lunch," he added, to eliminate any suspicion that the union was conducting this piece of business over the traditional three courses and lashings of gin and tonic.

One Bath player, Federico Mendez, flew in from Spain to be there. The Argentinian hooker was one of three players, including Yates and his fellow prop, Victor Ubogu, originally cited by the Exiles. Like other witnesses he filed a written account of events as well as making a personal appearance.

After intense pressure from London Scottish, who paraded Fenn before the press and television cameras 48 hours after the match, Bath suspended Yates on full pay on 13 January. He missed the Heineken Cup final with Brive and a number of England squad sessions, from which he withdrew on diplomatic grounds. He would almost certainly have been named in England's party for this weekend's Five Nations match against the French in Paris.

The likely outcome last night was an adjournment, either to today or next week. If Yates, who has always protested his innocence, was less than amused by the protracted agony of uncertainty, the tribunal members were acutely aware of the legal consequences of getting it wrong. Who said rugby was only a game?