Rugby Union: RFU plans to investigate Ubogu case

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The Independent Online
RUGBY'S GOVERNING classes have spent the last seven weeks insisting that the controversial programme of rebel matches involving Cardiff, Swansea and England's 14 top-flight Premiership clubs was nothing other than a cock-up waiting to happen. Sure enough, they were proved right yesterday when Victor Ubogu, the Bath prop, found himself at the centre of a disciplinary wrangle complex enough to give the Lord Chief Justice a migraine.

Ubogu was sent off for allegedly abusing Alun Ware, the referee, during Tuesday night's Cardiff-Bath match at the Arms Park, a fractious affair described as a "debacle" by Tony Swift, the visitors' chief executive. The Pontypridd official's decision so incensed the West Countrymen that Andy Robinson, their coach, briefly threatened to call off proceedings at half-time.

Mr Ware and representatives of both clubs subsequently smoothed things over by agreeing that no further action would be taken against Ubogu, but they failed to reckon with the Rugby Football Union. Even though the game went ahead without the RFU's blessing, the governing body is very interested indeed in the fact that an English player was given his marching orders in front of 12,250 paying customers, albeit by an unrecognised official.

Terry Burwell, the director of Twickenham services, said yesterday that the RFU had "agreed to fulfil its disciplinary role in relation to players playing for English clubs in these games, without prejudicing the union's position" and indicated that Mr Ware would be asked to file a full report of the incident.

This immediately prompted another question. Mr Ware, one of a small group of Welsh referees so at loggerheads with their own union that they are now operating outside it, is under no obligation to file a report to anyone. And without a report, the RFU will find it extremely difficult to reach any sort of verdict on Ubogu, let alone decide whether he should serve the 120-day suspension recommended for cases of verbal abuse.

"It's an interesting one, that's for sure," said Swift last night. "I'd be very surprised if the union decided to involve itself in this matter, owing to the fact that it has refused to sanction the cross-border games. But if there is to be an RFU hearing, we will strenuously defend Victor for the very good reason that he did not abuse the referee. He is entirely innocent."

Swift, who issued a statement expressing dissatisfaction with Mr Ware's display, confirmed that Ubogu would be considered for this weekend's Premiership match with Sale at the Recreation Ground. Chris Horsman's serious illness and John Mallett's ankle injury mean the league leaders are already down to their last three props and were any suspension to be slapped on Ubogu, they might be forced to postpone fixtures because of a shortage of front- row men.

The unofficial Anglo-Welsh series has been plagued by complaints of substandard refereeing and the English clubs in particular consider the small pool of available officials to be lacking depth and quality. "The standard needs to be of Premiership equivalence and we will be taking this matter up with the organising bodies concerned," said Swift.

Ubogu joins Scott Quinnell, the Welsh No 8, as rugby's latest disciplinary cause celebre. Quinnell was sent off at Wasps last Sunday following a heavy tackle on Lawrence Dallaglio, but will almost certainly play for Richmond at Leicester this weekend while his club finalise their defence case before an impending hearing.

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