Rugby Union: Popplewell handed 30-day suspension

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The Independent Online
Nick Popplewell, the Irish international prop and 1993 Test Lion, last night fell foul of English rugby's increasingly strict disciplinary code and was handed a 30-day suspension for punching Scott Murray during Newcastle's league match at Bedford earlier this month. The decision alarmed the Newcastle management and intrigued students of jurisprudence, who were left wondering whether anyone else in British legal history had been punished on three separate occasions for the same offence.

Popplewell delivered his haymaker in full view of a touchjudge and was shown the yellow card by the match referee, Steve Lander. The punch was also seen by the press and television cameras and the incident quickly developed into a cause celebre for the puritanical wing of the game.

After four days of intense public pressure, Newcastle fined their most experienced front row forward a week's wages, thought to be in the region of pounds 1,000, and warned him as to his future conduct. Still the issue would not go away; Roy Manock, chairman of the RFU's disciplinary commission, chose to exercise his right to investigate "any conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game" and, last night, meted out yet more justice.

Newcastle have a fortnight in which to lodge an appeal and Rob Andrew, director of rugby at Kingston Park, was quick to confirm that the club would consider such a step. Privately, the Geordies were furious at the RFU's intervention; they insist that Popplewell lashed out in frustration at Murray's illegal and dangerous tactics in the line-out.

Senior referees are also concerned at what they see as an undermining of their authority; they fear the consequences of trial by video and anticipate a sharp increase in disciplinary activity carried out over their heads. If Newcastle, guaranteed promotion to the top flight next season, accept the suspension, Popplewell will resume playing on 22 August.

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