Rugby Union: Leonard to present own defence against ban

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The Independent Online
Rugby Union

STEVE BALE

Jason Leonard will make a personal appearance at a hearing in London today that will decide whether he is free to play in England's Triple Crown game against Ireland on Saturday week or, more likely, be suspended.

The 27-year-old prop was cited on Sunday by the Scottish for the first-half punch into the face of Rob Wainwright that left the Scotland captain groggy for the rest of last Saturday's Calcutta Cup match. The incident was not observed by the match officials.

Jacky Laurans, the French federation committee member who was the Five Nations' commissioner at Murrayfield, has been summoned to deal with Leonard, who will probably be accompanied by Jack Rowell, the England manager.

Yesterday, Leonard, still in Edinburgh, emerged to make his first and only comment: "It was an unlucky incident." Although it is vastly less serious than the head-stamping which earned another prop, Peter Clohessy of Ireland, a 26-week suspension after being cited, Leonard is still liable to a ban of 30 days.

On the other hand, had the referee, Derek Bevan, seen the punch it is most unlikely he would have done more than show Leonard a yellow card. When he saw Scott Hastings punch Martin Johnson in the second half, he simply awarded a penalty against Scotland. So if Leonard can persuade Laurans that Bevan would have limited his punishment, he may even escape without being banned.

Moreover, even though Hastings was dealt with by the referee and is therefore not liable to citing, mischievous spirits at Twickenham could be imagined asking their Scottish counterparts whether they will adopt the same justice for their man as Laurans does with Leonard.

Yesterday, however, Tony Hallett, the Rugby Football Union secretary, ruled out any tit-for-tat - while acknowledging that a citing system was in effect an invitation to rival unions to pore over match videos in the hope of finding culprits.

The lingering puzzle is that an incident that was initially played down by Wainwright should have ended up as a cause celebre. While the Scotland captain was calling it "a wee 'stramash' ", the Scottish management were already preparing their accusation. (Chambers's Scots Dictionary describes a stramash as "an uproar or tumult").

Rowell may well have to do without Leonard, but Dean Richards he cannot - and the great man's gargantuan performance against the Scots served only to reinforce the manager's anxiety about where he is to find a successor. At Twickenham yesterday, he publicly plumped for Tim Rodber.

Rowell expressed a second anxiety about the number of non-English players coming into the newly professional English game and the consequent reduction in the pool of players at England's disposal, suggesting an upper limit of three per club if this were consistent with European Union law.

Hallett revealed that Michael Lynagh, Saracens' Australian acquisition, was being treated as an Italian, having played in Treviso for many years. With the approval of both the Italian and Australian unions, the former Wallaby captain will thus be eligible to play for his new club from the start of next season.

Hallett also announced that the Bath v Wigan rugby union match on 25 May would be played at Twickenham. As well as pre-Christmas home Tests against Italy and Argentina, the RFU hopes that England will play New Zealand in November to mark its 125th anniversary.

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