Rugby Union: Hutton to plead his innocence

RICHMOND ARE mounting a fierce assault on Bath's reputation as the hottest legal act in the Allied Dunbar Premiership. A matter of weeks after getting Scott Quinnell, their international No 8, off the disciplinary hook by successfully appealing against his sending-off against Wasps back in October, the Londoners are about to try something similar on behalf of another loose forward, Robbie Hutton. If it works they will be able to claim a better success rate than Rumpole of the Bailey.

Hutton was given the pointed finger treatment at Gloucester last weekend after taking a last-minute walk on the back of Andy Hazell, his opposite number. It was not a decision that impressed the visitors and yesterday club officials confirmed their intention to fight the case.. "We will not be taking any internal disciplinary measures against Robbie," a Richmond spokesman said. "Having studied the video evidence, we will attend the disciplinary hearing and argue that he should not have been dismissed."

Quinnell, who has since rejoined Llanelli, was initially banned for 14 days for late- tackling Lawrence Dallaglio, the England captain, during an early-season match at Loftus Road. The Welshman appealed and was exonerated in time to play for his country against Argentina in November. Bath still lead the way in the acquittal business, however. They have managed to get two of their international forwards, Ben Sturnham and Victor Ubogu, cleared by Rugby Football Union tribunals this season.

Still on the issue of guilt, the RFU itself must wait until next week to learn what punishment the International Rugby Board intends to impose in the strange case of the broken pledge. The IRB decided earlier this month that Twickenham had reneged on its promise of support for the board in its European Commission battle with the English Premiership clubs and demanded a response. The RFU made their views known yesterday, but details of any official sanction will not be conveyed until members of the IRB's disciplinary committee discuss the matter via an inter-continental telephone link-up.

Another IRB grouping has decided that only one English referee, Ed Morrison, will take control of a Five Nations' championship match this season. Morrison, one of three full-time officials appointed by the RFU before Christmas, has been awarded the Scotland-Wales match at Murrayfield a fortnight tomorrow, where he will have his fellow English professional, Steve Lander, running the touch.

Fifty per cent of this season's workload goes to officials from the southern hemisphere - a clear attempt by the IRB to harmonise refereeing interpretations in advance of this autumn's World Cup. The two Australians, Peter Marshall and Scott Young, will control the Ireland-France and Wales-Ireland games respectively while two New Zealanders, Steve Walsh and Colin Hawke, will officiate in England's matches against Ireland in Dublin on 6 March and France at Twickenham a fortnight later. England's final tussle, with Wales at Wembley on 11 April, will be overseen by a South African, Andre Watson.

Clive Woodward, the England coach, will have no problems with Hawke, a long-serving international referee whose Super 12-style liberalism helped Dallaglio and company put a record 60 points on Wales in last season's tournament. However, there will be serious concern amongst French officials at their lack of recognition this time around. Only Didier Mene has made the panel and he has been restricted to two tours of duty as a touch judge.

Meanwhile, Bristol's takeover move for London Scottish is likely to drag on for some time to come. "Because the ball of string we are trying to unravel is so knotted, I think it is in everyone's best interests to continue our talks privately," said Malcolm Pearce, Bristol's millionaire owner, yesterday as he played down any prospect of an early agreement between the two sides. His reticence fuelled suspicions that Bristol will abandon the deal if next week's negotiations on a new league structure are resolved to their satisfaction.

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