Rugby Union: Healey lands a 21-day ban

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IT WAS hardly the Monday night Austin Healey had been anticipating, writes Chris Hewett. Instead of discussing Calcutta Cup tactics with his England colleagues in the multi-star surroundings of the Petersham Hotel in Richmond, the Leicester Lip was counting the cost of his cheap-shot role in the now notorious Kevin Putt Affair, which unfolded before the television cameras, if not the match officials, at Welford Road on Saturday.

As expected, Healey was cited by London Irish yesterday, the Exiles accusing the Leicester scrum-half of stamping on Putt's face as his opposite number lay helpless on the ground at a 14th minute ruck. The Tigers management promptly went into closed session and decided to suspend their 25-year- old international for 21 days, thus ruling him out of the England-Scotland Five Nations match at Twickenham on Saturday.

Whether the ban was sufficient to satisfy the Rugby Football Union was a very moot point indeed. As a general rule, a stamping offence earns its perpetrator anything between three and six months on the sidelines and, as Newcastle twice found to their cost in 1997, Twickenham is perfectly prepared to intervene in disciplinary cases if a Premiership club refuses to throw a big enough book at a miscreant. "We have noted the action taken by Leicester," said Roy Manock, the RFU disciplinary officer, who confirmed that the union was considering holding a hearing of its own.

Healey had been virtually sure of a place in England's 22 for this weekend's Five Nations match with Scotland, but his immediate international future is now under considerable threat. Even though he claimed complete innocence on Saturday - "I lost balance; I would never kick or stamp on anyone's face," he insisted - London Irish, an honest club with no reputation as serial citers, found the television footage far too damning to ignore.

Meanwhile, one of Healey's clubmates, Joel Stransky, was soaking up flak of a different kind. Nick Mallett, the South African national coach, aimed some criticism at the former Springbok outside-half for his apparent willingness to switch his Test allegiance to England in time for this autumn's World Cup. Mallett said he was "saddened and disturbed" by the development, adding: "I have to take it with a pinch of salt when players say it is a great honour to play for a country they have been residing in for two or three years, especially when they have played at the highest level for South Africa."

The Scots have recalled Andy Reed, the Wasps lock, and Craig Chalmers, the Edinburgh Reivers stand-off, to a 22-man squad for the Calcutta Cup match. They replace the injured Doddie Weir and Duncan Hodge respectively.

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