Rugby Union: Hearing clears McIntosh

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Dale McIntosh is innocent! Pontypridd's notoriously aggressive No 8 is back in business after being cleared of bringing the game into disrepute. Chris Hewett marks the latest development in a controversial saga.

Provided the hard-pressed gendarmes of Brive make the necessary allowances, Dale McIntosh may well pay a return visit to the Parc Municipal des Sports in a little over a fortnight's time. It should be quite an occasion; the last time Pontypridd's pugilistic specialist pitched up at the most intimidating venue in French rugby, all hell broke loose.

The decision by a Heineken Cup disciplinary panel to acquit McIntosh of disrepute and ungentlemanly conduct allegations means Ponty's folk hero loose forward is free to re-enter the European fray. A 30-day suspension imposed immediately after his dismissal during the first half of last month's explosive Brive-Pontypridd match expired 24 hours before yesterday's hearing in Dublin.

McIntosh was sent off for playing a starring role in the on-field brawl that interrupted the now infamous Pool C clash on 14 September. He then treated the baying home crowd to a number of thumbs-up gestures as he headed for the tunnel, actions that led to the extra charges being brought. However, the disciplinary officials yesterday decided that his original punishment had been sufficient and gave him the all-clear.

There are, though, matters outstanding. McIntosh is one of three Pontypridd players legally banned from returning to the Brive area until police investigations into the after-match bar-room violence between rival players are completed. The two sides are scheduled to meet in a quarter-final play-off tie on 1 November and officials of the Welsh club have contacted a firm of French solicitors in an effort to get the injunction lifted.

Meanwhile, Tony Hallett, the former secretary of the Rugby Football Union, poured fresh oil on the flames of another bad-tempered dispute yesterday by accusing his former colleagues of capitulating during the row over England's unilateral television deal with BSkyB.

Hallett says in an interview with Rugby News magazine that the RFU should have stood firm in the face of threats by Wales, Scotland and Ireland to expel England from the Five Nations' Championship. "The whole thing was a very grand bluff and the RFU fell for it," he said. "It would have been pointless throwing us out because it would have been a valueless competition without us in it.

"My strongest incentive for pushing down the BSkyB route and risking the outrage of the other unions was keeping the game in England intact. The only way was to make sure that Sky didn't buy club rugby. Had they paid the clubs, say, pounds 40m, and held the whip hand over the players, it would have been good tactics for anyone wanting to own international rugby. It was a very serious threat."