Rugby Union / Fives Nations' Championship: Clohessy's chance to revive his career: David Hughes examines the career of the controversial strong-man whose suspension polarised Irish rugby

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NOT since Tony Ward was in his pomp has a rugby player provoked such debate in Ireland - from the letters pages of the Irish Times to the nation's airwaves and nightly television news. Peter Clohessy became a celebrity of sorts, and going into the Parc des Princes fray this afternoon he remains a cause celebre to some, a villain to others.

Alas, none of this had anything to with swarthy good looks and how to get a back line moving. To understand Peter Clohessy's notoriety is to appreciate Irish rugby's previously fundamental failure to deal with foul play. The rumpus transcended the 25-year-old tight head of Young Munster, Munster and Ireland. That is why, this time, housewives and mothers joined in.

Some took the view that Clohessy was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others that Steve Jameson was. Jameson is the St Mary's lock who was stamped on by Clohessy, first with his left boot and then his right, in a ruck on 2 October.

Jameson was cut above his left eye and on his hand, which he had used to protect himself, and was visibly shaking with anger after the game. But he did not name names, for in rugby's machismo world that would be interpreted as whingeing, and the matter could, like so many others, have ended there.

But one journalist was sufficiently motivated to study a video, and write a piece entitled 'Clohessy playing outside the acceptable boundaries of rugby.'

Young Munster rallied round 'one of their own'. A deeply impassioned and workingclass club, with the highest membership in the country, they are stoutly loyal.

Their captain, Ray Ryan, said this 'vendetta' was retribution for them winning the league. Tony Grant, their coach of 12 years, threatened to retire if Clohessy was suspended, as did the player. All sorts of red herrings entered the debate, such as who submitted the video to the Irish Rugby Football Union. But the IRFU held firm, focused on the question of stamping, and suspended Clohessy for 10 weeks.

Who knows what might have happened had someone other than Clohessy been in the eye of the storm. But he had a reputation, and not just as a good scrummager with sufficient ability to have been in the Lions party and to add to his three caps.

There had been bad blood between St Mary's and Young Munster from two years previously, when the former's scrum-half Johnny Muldoon had his face badly gashed. Clohessy was involved in a stamping incident during the Munster-Leinster match a year beforehand. And not long before that, the Australian coach, Bob Dwyer, had labelled Clohessy 'a disgrace' after Munster's defeat of the Wallabies in a particularly vicious encounter.

What matters now is how the IRFU continue to stamp out the stampers, and how Clohessy responds to the whole affair.

Clohessy has been given every encouragement to revive his career, particularly by the Irish team manager, Noel Murphy. While Clohessy was under suspension, a vacancy was left in the Irish A team to meet their Scottish counterparts on 28 December, and also in the the final trial on 2 January, both of which Clohessy duly filled.

He enters the Parisian cauldron with just three and a half matches under his belt, but the belt does fit more tightly than it did when he could be seen sucking in his stomach for last season's pre-debut photo call. Those three caps clearly inspired him, and he began this season noticeably trimmer than is his norm for September, maintaining his form in an otherwise unimpressive Young Munster team.

He maintained his fitness during September by playing indoor football while stationed in Moscow, where his family's suspended-ceiling business won a contract to refurbish the White House. 'It was the same as any office block,' he said matter-of-factly this week. 'Mostly smoke damage and bullets. There was no main structural damage.'

Such disarmingly short responses are typical of a shy, reserved man off the pitch. Naturally, he likes a jar, but by and large he seems to keep largely to himself in the Irish squad and is closest to fellow Munstermen, most noticeably Mick Galwey. He has been a good boy since re-emerging from his darkest 10 weeks, shaking hands with Jameson after the final trial and claiming: 'There are no grudges. I just want to forget about it.'

If he has any sense of guilt, he either does not - or dare not - show it. He maintains his innocence and claims 'I'm a lot wiser'. How? 'To the press.' Ask him if the episode might make him a more disciplined player and he responds: 'I wasn't undisciplined anyway.'

(Photograph omitted)

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