Rugby Union: 'Incensed' Lions all sign letter criticising Dooley's treatment: Home unions are condemned for lack of sensitivity and understanding in prematurely ending a celebrated lock's career. Steve Bale reports from Auckland

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The Independent Online
HAVING woken yesterday to the preposterous news that Wade Dooley would not be rejoining them thanks to a block put on him by his own people back home, the Lions are so scandalised that all 30 are putting their names to a letter of complaint to the committee of home unions.

England's most-capped lock, due to retire at the end of the tour, left his colleagues when they were in Invercargill last week after hearing of the death of his father. Even though he was replaced on the tour by Martin Johnson, of Leicester, the New Zealand Rugby Football Union immediately offered to fly Dooley back after the funeral. But he felt it was not worth the trouble when the home unions secretary, Bob Weighill, told him he would not be permitted to play.

Dooley, 36, would probably have bade farewell to rugby in the Waikato match on Tuesday week. Instead his distinguished career is now over and as a result Geoff Cooke, the Lions manager, yesterday abandoned the caution he had maintained as long as there was a possibility Dooley would return.

'The whole squad is incensed,' he said. 'It's an appalling way to treat a person who has given so much to the game. For our people to raise objections is staggering. It shows a lack of sensitivity and understanding.

'We talk about the amateur ethos of our game and if ever there was a case for displaying the amateur ethos, this was it - by saying 'all right, the regulations don't allow for it but we understand the situation and on grounds of sheer compassion he should be allowed to rejoin the party without any conditions'.'

Quite right, too. If ever there was a case for a rule to be bent, this was it, but the curmudgeonly intransigence of the home unions has made them a laughing-stock and confirmed the widely held feeling among leading players that some rugby administrators are completely out of touch.

The New Zealanders, led by Eddie Tonks, chairman of the NZRFU and the International Board, are incredulous, as is every one of the Lions. 'It's quite disgusting,' Will Carling, Dooley's England captain, said. Peter Winterbottom, Dooley's closest companion in the England team, added: 'Unbelievable, a disgrace. What they've done is deny Wade a chance of winning a Test place because his father has died.'

From Weighill the ball had been passed to Ronnie Dawson, chairman of the home unions tours committee, and thence to Keith Rowlands, secretary of the International Board, who in effect countermanded Tonks's invitation by ruling that Dooley could return only if he did not play.

'I can't understand Ronnie Dawson's attitude as a former captain and coach of the Lions,' Cooke said. 'And I can't see how the secretary of the IB feels he can overrule the chairman.' All too easily, it seems. One would have thought that New Zealand's generous invitation - made, as it was, in wholly exceptional circumstances - was quite sufficient.

Not for Dawson. 'The laws in relation to tours are specific and clear: you cannot have more than 30 players in the squad,' he said in Dublin yesterday. 'The circumstances of Dooley's departure were sad and unfortunate but at no time was there any request from the Lions management or the player himself to either Bob Weighill or me that he might return. It's our business to implement the tour agreement. It's not a question of being inflexible or intransigent.'

Dawson will not be joining the tour - 'probably just as well', Cooke snorted - but Weighill was due into Auckland today. 'I'm sure you'll find some interesting questions to ask him,' Cooke told the press yesterday. 'You'll probably be the only people who'll speak to him. We are going to write as a squad to Ronnie Dawson and make it very clear what we think. The whole thing is amazing.'

Meanwhile, the Lions' plan to assess further the capacity of the England loose-head, Jason Leonard, for playing at tight-head were aborted when he withdrew from today's Auckland match with a thigh injury and was replaced by the Test prop Paul Burnell. Dean Richards's calf injury meant his No 8 place went to Ben Clarke, with Richard Webster coming in on the blind side.