Rugby Union: Richmond ready to plead Quinnell's innocence

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The Independent Online
RICHMOND HAVE embarked on a "Scott Quinnell is innocent" campaign following the Welsh No 8's sending-off in the early stages of the weekend Premiership derby at Wasps and, judging by the highly detailed defence case put together by club officials yesterday, the authorities would probably have less trouble securing a conviction against General Pinochet. By way of underlining their sense of injustice, the Londoners are planning to include Quinnell in their squad for this Saturday's match at Leicester.

Quinnell was dismissed by Brian Campsall, the international referee, after 27 minutes of Sunday's game at Loftus Road. Campsall decided he was guilty of a late, high and illegal tackle on Lawrence Dallaglio, one of the accused's colleagues on last year's Lions tour of South Africa.

John Kingston, the Richmond coach, insisted on seeing video footage of the incident before passing judgement and duly entered the viewing lounge yesterday in the company of Tony Hallett, his chief executive. "Our own disciplinary panel are adamant that, firstly, the contact was in the middle of the chest - that is to say, not high - and that, secondly, Scott made contact with Dallaglio 0.33 seconds after he had kicked the ball - that is to say, not late either," said Hallett, who added that the club would be asking Campsall to reconsider his decision.

Those who assumed that Quinnell, recently transfer-listed on compassionate grounds because his wife is homesick, had effectively bowed out of English club rugby on a note so low as to border on the subterranean, may now be forced to revise their opinion. Richmond sources said the player was 99 per cent certain to feature at Welford Road this Saturday just as Ben Sturnham, the Bath forward, continued to play after being sent off for an alleged stamp earlier this month. Interestingly, Sturnham was later found not guilty by a Rugby Football Union tribunal.

There were no such traumas for Darragh O'Mahony yesterday; the 26-year- old Bedford wing from Cork was fast-tracked into a 27-man Irish squad making its final preparations for next month's World Cup qualifying matches with Romania and Georgia in Dublin. But there was disappointment for two hardened internationals. Gabriel Fulcher of Leinster lost out to Jeremy Davidson, the 1997 Lions Test lock now back to full fitness and firing on all cylinders with the crack French side, Castres, while David Corkery's inconsistent form with Munster has cost him a back-row place.

Talking of seasoned top-flighters, Zinzan Brooke and Jason Leonard return to Premiership duty at The Stoop tonight where Harlequins, shock winners over Saracens on Saturday, take on Gloucester, whose simultaneous defeat of Newcastle at Kingsholm was no less thrilling. It will be Leonard's first senior start since he was caught giving Budge Pountney, the Northampton flanker, some "shoe pie" at Franklin's Gardens just over a month ago and Clive Woodward, the England coach, will be relieved to see him back. Gloucester, meanwhile, are unchanged.

London Irish go into tonight's other major Premiership One rumble against Leicester with three changes to the side that performed so outstandingly in defeat against Bath 10 days ago. Nick Burrows replaces Robert Todd in midfield, Kris Fullman beats Rob Hardwick to the tight-head berth and Jake Boer comes in at flanker for Kevin Spicer.

However exciting the fare might become over the next few months, terrestrial television viewers are unlikely to catch a glimpse of it. Francis Baron, the new chief executive of the Rugby Football Union, confirmed yesterday that the governing body would not chip in to help the highlights programme, Rugby Express, in its attempt to make a mid-season return on Channel 5.

"The proposals we have been presented with do not provide rugby fans, the clubs or the union with value for money," he said. "Although our decision may mean that terrestrial televised club rugby is not broadcast for one season, we will be doing everything in our power to ensure that negotiations for next year begin much earlier and that we have a much bigger part to play in the process."

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