Rugby Union: Referee accuses Quins' trio

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The Independent Online
THE HOT potato of Harlequins and the illegal studs was passed by the Rugby Football Union to the Middlesex RU, Quins' constituent body, last night after the referee of the Waterloo-Quins cup tie accused the players concerned of changing their studs after his pre- match inspection. The players strongly deny this.

Stewart Piercy has made no public comment on his temporary dismissal of the England front-row pair, Brian Moore and Jason Leonard, and the lock Alex Snow to change their studs for ones within the permitted dimensions. But his report, detailing his suspicions, and a letter of protest from Waterloo have now arrived at Twickenham.

Harlequins had already accepted that the three forwards' studs were longer than allowed but had taken no action against them beyond a reminder of their responsibilities and charging Jamie Salmon, the team manager, with ensuring that his players abided by the regulations.

Indeed they initially hoped to sidestep the conning-the-referee allegation - until Dudley Wood, the RFU secretary, pronounced. 'The clear inference of the referee's report is that it is his belief that the players were not wearing the same studs during the match that he inspected beforehand,' Wood said yesterday.

Under its bye-law 13 (g) the union has virtually limitless powers to punish individuals or clubs whose conduct is prejudicial to the game. But all three Harlequins categorically deny Piercy's allegation, will contest it if it comes to a formal hearing and, unusually for a rugby union disciplinary matter, are in this instance innocent until found guilty.

'Under this regulation, the facts have to be proved - unlike a sending-off, where the player is guilty,' Wood added. 'If proved, it would be regarded as a serious breach of the regulations.' Indeed of wider interest to the RFU would be to ascertain how widespread this abuse is.

Colin Herridge, the Harlequin secretary, said: 'I have asked the question of the players and they have told me they did not change their boots following the referee's inspection. That is backed up by evidence that neither Brian Moore nor Jason Leonard had two pairs of boots with him at the match.'

Boots and studs are not necessarily the same thing, however, though Herridge - himself an RFU committee man - insisted that the idea of players surreptitiously switching studs at the last minute before playing a cup quarter-final was ridiculous. 'Knowing what dressing-rooms are like, I don't believe you can turn them into a cobbler's shop,' he said.

As for Waterloo, their concern is less that Quins might have pulled a fast one on Piercy than the danger posed by studs which are longer and more tapered than the rules permit. 'We aren't interested in persecuting Harlequins,' the club secretary, Keith Alderson, said yesterday.

'We are looking at the wider aspects. Our letter to the Rugby Union is primarily to ensure that the authorities take steps to outlaw the studs and make certain that the rules are not contravened in this way.'

Harlequins privately suggest that the use of illegal studs has been by no means confined to them. Moreover, the affair has an international dimension in that, according to a distinguished ex-international, players in Australia and New Zealand wear the longer, illicit studs with impunity.

Paul Ackford, the former England lock who with Herridge represents Surrey on the RFU, said that he returned from the 1989 Lions tour of Australia with a set - and then used them. 'Some referees passed them and some asked me to change,' he confessed.

Injury has forced Alan Buzza and the captain, John Hall, to withdraw from the England A team who play Spain at Richmond on Friday. Paul Hull of Bristol was yesterday chosen as the replacement full-back and Matthew Greenwood of Wasps on the flank, with Dean Richards elevated to the captaincy on his first appearance at this level.

Wales rely on Walker, page 30