Rugby Union: Leonard's let-off upsets Scotland

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The Independent Online
Rugby Union

STEVE BALE

The video evidence on which the Scottish based its complaint proved inadequate for the Five Nations commissioner to punish Jason Leonard when he sat in judgement on England's most-capped prop in London last night.

Leonard, 27, had been cited by the SRU for a right-hander which felled Rob Wainwright, the Scotland captain, during the first half of last Saturday's Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield. Had Marcel Martin, the Frenchman in charge of the hearing, found the case proven, Leonard would probably have been suspended for 30 days.

But instead he is free to win his 49th cap when England go for the Triple Crown against Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday week and would also be able to play for Harlequins in their First Division derby at Wasps on Saturday if he were not occupied by England's pre-Test training weekend.

The SRU, however, expressed "extreme disappointment" that no action was being taken against Leonard. Its spokesman, Charlie Laidlaw, said: "The SRU did not reach its decision to cite lightly and, in the union's view, the weight of evidence is that Jason Leonard was guilty of foul play.

"Whilst accepting the commissioner's decision, the SRU is, therefore, extremely disappointed that no action is being taken against the player."

A statement issued on Martin's behalf said: "After a detailed review of video evidence, and having heard from the player, who pleaded not guilty, the commissioner decided the evidence was not conclusive enough to find Mr Leonard guilty of foul play."

This has been a curious business from the moment after the match when Wainwright himself played it down - just as the Scottish manager, Jim Telfer, sitting alongside him, was preparing the accusation.

Had Derek Bevan, the referee, seen the incident it is more or less inconceivable he would have ordered Leonard off - not when his second-half action against Scott Hastings for punching Martin Johnson amounted to a penalty. Yet, in accordance with International Board regulations, the commissioner had to deal with the case as if a dismissal had occurred while at the same time maintaining a presumption of innocence.

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