Rugby Union: RFU drops Dallaglio drugs charge

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The Independent Online
THE STRANGE case of Lawrence Dallaglio took yet another peculiar twist yesterday evening when the Rugby Football Union, completely at sea in attempting to deal with an unprecedented disciplinary situation, dropped their charge of drug-taking against the former England captain. Dallaglio remains accused of bringing the game into disrepute and will answer to the allegation at Twickenham tomorrow, but the way now seems clear for him to pick up the threads of his tarnished career and perform his appointed role in the forthcoming World Cup.

That the RFU should have taken such a dramatic step at so late a juncture will earn them their usual brickbats and it is safe to say that no two members of the Twickenham hierarchy have ever wholly agreed on how to cope with a scandal instigated by a so-called "investigation" by the News of the World in May - an investigation that, in the view of the Dallaglio camp, was nothing more than entrapment. On Sunday, Clive Woodward, the England coach whose support for his player has been total, took a public swipe at those officers responsible for bringing the drugs charge in the first place.

In their unexpected statement last night, the RFU revealed that Roy Manock, their disciplinary officer, had withdrawn the charge that Dallaglio had allegedly taken "recreational" drugs with playing colleagues during the Lions tour of South Africa in 1997. "The charge was laid after the disciplinary officer received legal advice from a QC," said the statement. "However, new evidence has come to light and the disciplinary officer now accepts that the charge should never have been brought."

Manock sanctioned the charge after a long investigation into the newspaper's claims by Sir John Kay and his inquiry team. When their 80-page report was published, a large number of RFU council members were struck by what they considered to be a lack of evidence corroborating the drug-taking allegation and were astonished - and not a little worried - when Dallaglio was formally accused. In a radio interview on Sunday, Woodward said: "I was expecting just one charge. When they put two charges on him, I thought the drugs one was wrong. There's absolutely no evidence. I then thought: `I can't be seen to endorse that.' I just hope this doesn't backfire on me, Lawrence, the team or the country."

Far from backfiring, it is beginning to look like a remarkable victory for Woodward, whose star is very much in the ascendant in the most influential corridors of Twickenham power. Few coaches in recent rugby history would have put themselves on the line in such a way and if Dallaglio indeed runs out to face Italy in the opening match of England's World Cup campaign on 2 October, he will have his coach to thank.

However, RFU sources insisted last night that the disrepute charge, founded on the fact that Dallaglio was directly quoted as bragging about his drug- taking by the newspaper, will be taken very seriously. Dallaglio does not dispute the comments attributed to him, but claims he was lying in an attempt to impress people he thought were offering him a big-money sponsorship deal, but subsequently turned out to be journalists.

Tomorrow's hearing will be conducted by Mr Justice Popplewell, a High Court judge of the Queen's Bench Divisions. He will be accompanied by John Spencer, the former England centre and captain who now represents Yorkshire on the RFU council, and Captain Chris Tuffley, who represents the Royal Marines and Royal Navy on that body.

Meanwhile, Woodward culled seven players from his wider World Cup squad yesterday. The biggest casualty was Victor Ubogu, the Bath prop, who had been rated a racing certainty for a place in the final 30-man party after two magnificent Premiership seasons with his club and a successful return to the England fold. Four backs - the Leeds scrum-half Scott Benton, the Sale centre Barrie-Jon Mather, the Leicester wing Leon Lloyd and the Wasps outside-half Alex King - also received their rejection slips, as did two forwards, the Wasps lock Simon Shaw and the Leicester flanker Paul Gustard.

Yesterday's events left 32 players in the party for this weekend's warm- up Test against Canada at Twickenham and the injured Kyran Bracken of Saracens and Garath Archer of Bristol, are in the frame for World Cup duty. Woodward will name his party in Devon a week today.

ENGLAND SQUAD (v Canada, Twickenham, Saturday): Backs: M Perry (Bath), N Beal (Northampton), T Stimpson (Leicester), D Rees (Sale), D Luger (Saracens), A Healey (Leicester), J Guscott (Bath), W Greenwood (Leicester), P de Glanville (Bath), M Catt (Bath), J Wilkinson (Newcastle), P Grayson (Northampton), M Dawson (Northampton), M Wood (Wasps).

Forwards: J Leonard (Harlequins), G Rowntree (Leicester), T Woodman (Gloucester), P Vickery (Gloucester), D Garforth (Leicester), W Green (Wasps), R Cockerill (Leicester), N McCarthy (Gloucester), P Greening (Sale), M Johnson (Leicester, capt), D Grewcock (Saracens), T Rodber (Northampton), R Hill (Saracens), L Dallaglio (Wasps), N Back (Leicester), J Worsley (Wasps), M Corry (Leicester), B Clarke (Bath).