Rugby Union: Giovanelli reprieve incurs Scots' anger

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THE SCOTTISH Rugby Union has criticised the decision to exonerate the Italian captain, Massimo Giovanelli, who was sent off for stamping on Scotland's No 8 Eric Peters in the recent friendly between the two sides.

Giovanelli was handed an eight-week ban by a Five Nations disciplinary committee immediately after the game. However, an appeals tribunal has ruled that because the game was not a Five Nations contest, even though the game was run under Five Nations regulations, the ban should not apply. Giovanelli is now free to play with immediate effect. An SRU statement last night described the decision as unacceptable and leaves open the possibility of pursuing the matter through the courts.

"We do not accept `procedural matters' should override the fact that the referee and touch judge considered Mr Giovanelli should be dismissed from the field for an act of foul play," said the SRU chief executive, Bill Watson. "We will not rest until this appalling act is justly penalised for the good of our game."

SRU officials are discussing the matter with the International Rugby Board and the Italian Rugby Federation. Previously the IRB has been warned by the police that in order to exclude the possibility of bodies outside the sport taking action against violent play, they must ensure that punishments are handed out in a proper fashion.

The Ireland captain, Paddy Johns, has given his country a pre-match boost ahead of the Five Nations clash with Scotland at Murrayfield by announcing he is quitting the English game. Johns, who wins his 50th cap tomorrow, will leave Saracens after three years with the London club and join the European Cup winners Ulster, where he played for six seasons before moving to England. He becomes the latest - and biggest - name to cross the Irish Sea, following the likes of Eric Miller, Jonathan Bell and David Humphreys, who will all appear alongside Johns in the big Edinburgh confrontation.

"There are several reasons behind my decision, there is no one factor," said Johns. "I have had a very enjoyable three years with Saracens but this is a new challenge for me."

Now Johns is setting his sights on a Murrayfield success to give Ireland a 50 per-cent winning record in the Five Nations."This is our last game and, although we would love to finish with a flourish, we want to win," he said.