Rugby Union: Pontypridd's return bout could be in no-man's-land

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The Independent Online
The warring rugby parties of Brive and Pontypridd are still at each other's throats, albeit verbally rather than physically. Chris Hewett hears the latest outburst from across the Channel and sets the scene for today's decisive disciplinary meeting in Dublin

Laurent Seigne is adamant that his Brive side should not be asked to face the "semi-civilised animals" of Pontypridd - at least, not in their natural habitat of Sardis Road - and he may well see his wish fulfilled. The directors of European Rugby Cup Ltd, the governing body of the Heineken Cup, meet in Dublin today to consider shifting this weekend's fraught return fixture between the two clubs to a neutral venue, possibly in the north of England.

If they choose that route, the board will probably impose another safeguard by ensuring that the game is played behind closed doors - a move unprecedented in rugby history. That would almost certainly satisfy the Frenchmen, who have made it clear that they fear the Ponty supporters every bit as much as the Welsh club's players following the violent scenes in Brive nine days ago. "There are too many pressures to play the match in Pontypridd," said Seigne after watching his side's narrow defeat at Bath. "I would very much prefer not to have the match at all. There is a real danger for us, both in the ground and out of it, and I am very concerned about security for my players. Pontypridd are completely mad. They should be expelled from the competition."

It now seems unlikely that the ERC board will eject either club from the competition; they will not pre-judge the French police investigation into the late-night brawl that all but wrecked a bar and while the mass punch-up on the pitch was no laughing matter, the incident was nowhere near serious enough in itself to warrant the ultimate sanction.

"I hope for rugby's sake that neither side is thrown out," said Andy Robinson, the Bath coach. "Stern warnings must be given, though. This is a heated game in which players are psyched up to the edge, so things can explode on the pitch occasionally. But off the pitch? That is unacceptable."

Robinson has problems of his own in the wake of the victory over Brive. Ieuan Evans, the injury-prone former Llanelli wing who played his first top-level game for Bath on Saturday, broke down with groin trouble in the closing minutes and may not be seen again this side of Christmas.

The Welshman, invalided out of the Lions' summer tour of South Africa with a similar condition, was due to be scanned by a specialist today. Bath already have two other Lions, Jeremy Guscott and Andy Nicol, on a debilitating injury list.

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