Rugby Union: Pontypridd face expulsion after bar-room brawl

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The relationship between the great rugby powers of Wales and France lay in tatters yesterday, after a bar-room brawl that put three Brive internationals in hospital and three Pontypridd players in court. Chris Hewett and Adam Szreter report on a body-blow to the game's image.

The punch-up on the field was bad enough, but the Wild West-style saloon brawl that succeeded it was infinitely worse. Pontypridd, roundly accused as the instigators of Sunday night's bloody excesses in the centre of Brive, will be called to account by Heineken Cup officials this week and may well find themselves thrown out of the competition in disgrace.

Dale McIntosh, the Ponty No 8, Phil John, the Welsh club's hooker, and Andre Barnard, a recent midfield recruit from South Africa, appeared before a French prosecutor yesterday afternoon following a spectacular free-for- all between rival players and supporters in the Bar Le Toulzac, a popular watering hole situated in the ironically named Place-de-Patriotes Martyrs. The three players, accused of "violence and degradation", are to be brought before an investigating judge, and in all 12 Pontypridd players may end up being questioned.

The team had been due to fly out of Brive yesterday at 9.30am, but at 8am the police arrived. The chartered plane later left without the players who, wisely, spent the rest of the day in their hotel.

McIntosh had been sent off as a result of his role in the original mass set-to in the 26th minute of Sunday's game, which Brive, the reigning European champions, won by a point on the back of a disputed injury time try. The abrasive New Zealander antagonised the home crowd by smiling mockingly and giving them "victorious" thumbs-up signs as he headed for the dressing-room and was later suspended for 30 days. Lionel Mallier, the Brive flanker dismissed for his part in the same incident, received an identical punishment.

Depressingly, the matter did not rest there. Eye witnesses said a number of Brive players were drinking in the bar, jointly owned by Jean-Marie Soubira, a former player, when the Welsh contingent arrived. Something approaching bedlam promptly ensued and when the dust finally settled - or, rather, the police tear gas evaporated - M Soubira, was left to contemplate the extensive damage to his property caused by flying bottles and furniture.

Philippe Carbonneau, the Brive captain who had incensed the Welshmen by openly butting Stuart Roy during the match, needed hospital treatment for a broken nose, as did Christophe Lamaison, his colleague in the French Test side. A third international, David Venditti, suffered a bite wound to his hand and was also treated.

Speaking to French radio, Carbonneau said the Pontypridd group "started to bother us, hit us, then after that it was crazy. Before the police came we were really afraid." Lamaison ruled out any possibility of Brive travelling to Sardis Road for the return match on Saturday week. "It would be impossible for us," he said.

Brive may be spared the trouble of making that particular stand. The directors of European Rugby Cup Ltd, the high-powered body established to oversee the Heineken Cup and safeguard its growing reputation as the brightest jewel in the crown of northern hemisphere club rugby, have demanded written reports from both managements. The ultimate sanction is stark and simple: expulsion, not only from this season's competition but indefinitely.

Roger Pickering, the tournament director, stuck firmly to the diplomatic line yesterday, insisting that no assumptions could be made until the full facts had been made available. But the French were in no mood to hold back. Bernard Lapasset, the president of the country's rugby federation, called for Pontypridd to be banned from the tournament and any proven ringleader to be excluded from the Heineken Cup for life.

The Welsh Rugby Union was also demanding an explanation from Pontypridd. One WRU source said: "The view here was that Brive were the more culpable in causing the brawl that broke out on the pitch. But the bar incident is something else again. It could hardly be more serious."