Rugby Union: Rivals refuse to help Bath

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The Independent Online
IF BEN STURNHAM was banking on a little rugger-bugger cameraderie to help him survive his disciplinary hearing at Twickenham tonight, he will have to think again, writes Chris Hewett. Bedford, who have enough troubles of their own, yesterday refused to intervene on behalf of the Bath forward, leaving Sturnham to contemplate a worst case scenario of three months on the sidelines.

Sturnham was sent off by Ashley Rowden, the Berkshire referee, for an alleged stamp on Scott Murray during the Premiership game between the two clubs at the Recreation Ground 10 days ago. Rowden did not witness the incident, but acted on the advice of a touch judge.

Bath sources insist that Murray was not the victim of a stamping and, while they privately accept that he may have been punched, they strongly deny Sturnham was the guilty party. "The video evidence we've seen is totally inconclusive and, anyway, I've spoken to Scott and he has indicated to me that he wasn't kicked," said Andy Robinson, the Bath coach, at the weekend.

However, Robinson has not been able to persuade Murray to speak up for Sturnham at tonight's hearing - "we're not getting involved in any way, either collectively or individually," said Bedford's spokesman, Richard Hart, yesterday - and that means Sturnham will have to sweat it out.

Meanwhile, England's much-maligned governing body has finally discovered a piece of common ground it can share with its counterparts in New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. After months of disagreeing about everything under the sun, the Rugby Football Union will unite with the southern hemisphere against a controversial fixture blueprint drawn up by an International Board working party under the chairmanship of Bernard Lapasset, the president of the French federation.

Lapasset is recommending that England, the biggest crowd-pullers outside the Tri-Nations community, play only six overseas Tests against the three southern superpowers between 2003 and 2010 - a drastic cut in top-level activity. Wales, Scotland and Ireland would follow a similar programme leaving the French, interestingly enough, to play no fewer than 22 Tests down under between 2001 and 2014. Both the English and Australian unions have rejected the proposals.