Rugby Union: The end of illegal studs

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The Independent Online
THE PRACTICE of wearing illegally long and tapering studs, apparently carried on with impunity for years, has effectively been ended now that the Middlesex Rugby Union has disciplined three Harlequins who broke the laws in last month's Pilkington Cup quarter-final against Waterloo at Blundellsands.

Punishment is no more than a slap on the wrist, but the embarrassingly high profile of those involved - two members of the England front row to play Ireland on Saturday, plus a lock who has been in the England squad this season - has given the case an importance beyond simply what goes in England.

Brian Moore, Jason Leonard and Alex Snow, as well as the Harlequin Football Club itself, were severely reprimanded. No action was taken on the grave allegation by the referee Stewart Piercy that they had switched either boots or studs after his pre-match inspection. The three players were ordered off to change during the course of the match.

But of wider significance is Middlesex's recommendation to the Rugby Football Union that it fully review the practice and procedures on studs. This will ensure vigilance by referees before and during games - and therefore the elimination of an illegality which has been outrageously widespread and open.

Roger Looker, the Quins chairman, said: 'Players have been wearing unacceptable studs for years. We're glad Middlesex didn't get too excited about a long-standing practice.' This prompts the question why clubs have not done their duty by ensuring their players play by the rules. At least from now on they will have no excuse.

The Middlesex disciplinarians' next duty will be to judge Fran Clough, the Wasps centre sent off for striking Jeremy Guscott in last Saturday's climactic Courage league fixture at Bath. In fact Clough did not throw a punch, and Wasps are hoping for a reduction in the automatic 30-day suspension so that Clough could play in the cup semi-final against Harlequins on 10 April.

After injuring a shoulder playing for Leicester at Bristol on Saturday, Neil Back has withdrawn from the England side for Friday's A international against Ireland in Dublin on Friday, giving the England management another chance to assess Bath's Steve Ojomoh as an open-side flanker. Ojomoh moves from No 8, a position now filled by Matthew Greenwood of Wasps.