Rugby Union: RFU on the defensive: Concern shown over fair-play record

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AFTER the hysterical response to the All Blacks, English rugby is perforce on the defensive about its own fair-play record - which meant that the Rugby Football Union yesterday had to react with due concern to the spate of foul-play accusations in recent days.

As neither the alleged gouging of the Harlequin Troy Coker by a Bath player nor the gouging of the London Irishman Howard Lamb, also by a Bath player, had actually been referred to Twickenham, the RFU secretary, Dudley Wood, was justifiably anxious for more of a sense of perspective than was kept about the All Blacks.

'It is a matter of concern to the Rugby Union if we read about these things, because it puts the game in a poor light,' Wood said. 'No union is more anxious or determined to maintain discipline in the game. What has changed is that we are now under the spotlight as never before.'

Anyone who knows anything about the game will in fact tell you that it is far cleaner than in the pre-video age and, while not for a minute excusing foul play, Wood is absolutely right to point out that in a physical-contact sport some untoward incidents are bound to occur. 'The difference from soccer is that one of the parts of the game is actually knocking your opponent down,' Wood said.

Lamb, incidentally, was twice warned by the referee at Bath and was considered by most of those present fortunate not to be sent off himself. As for Coker, and sundry other Harlequin allegations of biting and testicle-twisting, the Quins secretary, Colin Herridge, said at Twickenham yesterday that the subject was now closed.

Meanwhile, the chances of the requisite international co- operation to establish an Anglo-Welsh competition were severely reduced yesterday when the RFU's competitions chairman announced that English opinion was hardening against the idea.

'The English view of the Anglo-Welsh leagues is that it's very much on the back burner,' John Jeavons-Fellows said. 'They haven't been discussed in our committees. They aren't on any agenda.' They were, however, on the agenda of the four leading English and four leading Welsh clubs whose representatives met at Tewkesbury last month.

England want a revision of the itinerary of their tour to South Africa in May and June. Don Rutherford, the RFU technical director, agrees that the schedule put forward by the South Africans would make it the hardest tour in English rugby history but insists the real problem is caused by moving back and forth between sea level and 6,000ft altitude. 'We felt we were going up and down like a yo-yo,' he said.

Alan Watkins, page 38