Rugby Union: Loe banned for gouging

RICHARD LOE, whose career as one of the world's leading prop-forwards has been consistently controversial, finally fell foul of the rugby authorities yesterday when he was banned for nine months for eye- gouging his fellow All Black Greg Cooper. It is the heaviest suspension ever imposed on a leading New Zealand player.

It took a nine-hour meeting of the NZ Rugby Union's judicial committee to convict and sentence Loe. Video evidence of the incident, during Waikato's 40-5 defeat of Otago in the national championship final, showed him gouging Cooper, who grimaced and tried to rip Loe's hand away. Cooper had to leave the field with an eye injury. 'We found Richard Loe deliberately inserted his fingers into Greg Cooper's eyes with considerable force,' Tim Gresson, of the NZRFU, said after the hearing.

Although he is being permitted to fulfil a winter's commitment in French club rugby, the punishment will cause Loe to miss the All Blacks' series against the Lions next year and will also rule him out of the tour to England and Scotland that will follow next autumn.

It is a miserable end to a year in which he has regularly been in trouble. First there was an allegation of over-vigorous rucking during the early part of the All Blacks' tour of Australia and then Loe broke Paul Carozza's jaw by elbowing the Wallaby wing after he had scored a try in the second Test in Brisbane. The Australian RU complained to the NZRFU, but Loe was exonerated.

All this transpired after Loe had been dropped - along with Cooper - from the second Test against the Irish in June. Having since 1988 been the tight-head prop in an illustrious front row with Steve McDowell and Sean Fitzpatrick, he was recalled in place of McDowell at loose head against Australia.

The Welsh Rugby Union has decided to abandon the experiment of playing both Challenge Cup semi-finals 'back to back' at Cardiff Arms Park, and will revert to the system of playing the two games at neutral venues, which was the practice from 1972-1990.