Rugby Union: Record fines as Pontypridd and Brive are told to play on

The directors of the Heineken Cup last night hit the warring rugby factions of Brive and Pontypridd where it hurts most - in the pocket - by imposing an unprecedented fine of pounds 30,000 on each club following their violent collision in France 10 days ago. In the same breath, they gave their blessing to this weekend's return match at Sardis Road. Chris Hewett considers the verdict.
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This much is certain: there will not be a centimetre of spare space at Sardis Road on Saturday. The harassed board members of European Rugby Cup Ltd last night drew a deep collective breath, took their reputations in their hands and gave the go-ahead for Pontypridd and Brive to meet again less than a fortnight after knocking seven bells out of each other and prompting a full-scale police investigation into the bargain.

The miscreants did not escape lightly, far from it. Both were fined pounds 30,000 for their part in the spectacular one-in, all-in dust-up that disfigured the Heineken Cup Pool C match at the Parc Municipal des Sports a week ago last Sunday. Even though 50 per cent of the fines were suspended pending a disciplinary assessment of the two sides over the remaining four months of the campaign, the penalty is far heavier than any previously imposed on a union club.

Cenydd, Thomas, the Pontypridd chief executive, admitted he was surprised by the size of the fine. He told BBC Radio 5 Live: "It's a new thing in rugby union isn't it, for clubs to be fined that sort of money? But, looking at that, we are accepting the decision of ERC. There's no debate at this time.

"It is a hefty fine. We have already suffered a financial penalty because as our players had to stay in France for 36 hours longer than originally planned, our travelling expenses doubled. But that isn't the point. We want to put that behind us now."

In addition, Dale McIntosh, the Pontypridd No 8 dismissed for his role in the conflagration, was charged with bringing the game into disrepute by celebrating his sending-off with a series of provocative thumbs-up signs aimed at the Brive supporters. The clubs were also warned as to their future conduct and threatened with immediate expulsion from the competition if it can be shown that they were to blame for the late-night bar-room brawl that followed the game.

French police are still investigating that aspect of a desperate weekend of violence and, after taking legal advice, the board members decided they would be unwise to dip their toes in those murky waters. They confined their deliberations to events on the field while reserving the right both to monitor judicial inquiries and act further when appropriate.

It now remains to be seen whether Brive turn up in Wales at all this weekend. Their coach, the former French international prop Laurent Seigne, has repeatedly stated that his side could not contemplate playing Ponty in their own intimidating back yard.

High-level contacts were being made with Brive last night in an effort to secure their participation; should the reigning champions decline to play, the entire tournament would be thrown into confusion. At the same time, the board members are acutely aware that they are walking on eggshells. They would be held up to public ridicule should it "all go off" again at Sardis Road.

Roger Pickering, the tournament director, said last night: "The board wish to make it clear to all clubs that they have a responsibility to ensure their players maintain the highest possible standards of sportsmanship on the field of play. This message must be reaffirmed with coaches and players, who must acknowledge their responsibilities to the game as a whole."

Pickering added that an investigation would now be staged into the equally violent affair between Pau and Llanelli in the same competition on 13 September. Officials of both clubs have been summoned to Dublin, the competition headquarters, to explain themselves.