Rugby Union: Tribunal clears Sturnham of kicking charge

Click to follow
The Independent Online
BACK IN the golden age of amateurism, referees and touch judges were never wrong about anything, especially disciplinary matters. Nowadays, they are as human as the rest of us. Ben Sturnham, the Bath forward dismissed for allegedly kicking Scott Murray in a Premiership match 12 days ago, was last night adjudged to have done nothing of the sort and exonerated by a Rugby Football Union disciplinary tribunal.

Sturnham, who won his first cap on England's summer tour of the southern hemisphere while simultaneously completing a high-profile move from Saracens to the Recreation Ground, firmly protested his innocence when he appeared at Twickenham yesterday evening. He was supported by his coach, Andy Robinson, who testified that Murray himself did not hold Sturnham responsible.

Ashley Rowden, the referee, dismissed Sturnham on the advice of his touch judge, Andy Melrose. There was no clear-cut video evidence, however, and the tribunal decided that the accused had merely attempted to break up a scuffle between Murray and Richard Webster, the Bath captain, and had not made any illegal contact.

While Bath were welcoming the RFU ruling - had the case gone against him, Sturnham might have been saddled with a three-month suspension - the Welsh disciplinary committee was suffering at the hands of public opinion. Their decision to ban Mark Jones, the Ebbw Vale No 8, for three matches for landing a nasty punch on Ian Gough, the Pontypridd lock, drew howls of protest - especially as Rod Snow, Newport's Canadian prop, picked up a four-match ban for two technical offences that emphatically did not fracture anyone's eye socket.

Gough's father was the first to speak out. "I feel disgust and contempt for the committee, who are condoning thuggery and gratuitous violence on the field," he said. "It is not only Mark Jones who needs to see a psychologist. The WRU should book an appointment."

However Graham Henry, the new national coach, confirmed that Jones would be considered for Wales' one-off Test with the Springboks at Wembley next month. "I'm not interested in undisciplined players because they lose matches and embarrass you, but Mark knows that now," he said. At the same time David Pickering, the Wales team manager, said Jones and Gough had "smoked the pipe of peace" at yesterday's training session. Given the current controversy over illicit substances, they should watch their step.

Henry's colourful assertion that Wales would be "walking the plank" when they confronted the South Africans did not necessarily mean that he expected Steve Black, his new fitness advisor, to spend the first few weeks of his five-year contract handing out water wings rather than diet sheets. Still, the coach was not dismissing the possibility of a likely drubbing turning into a mass drowning. "In an ideal world, I wouldn't have chosen to play South Africa first up," he admitted yesterday.

But by luring Black away from Newcastle, where he was a crucial figure in the Falcons' triumphant raid on last season's Allied Dunbar Premiership, Henry has ensured that his players will at least be in peak condition. "I'm not interested in emulating anyone else, not even the Boks or the All Blacks," said Black. "If anything, I intend to get everyone copying us."

Back in the West Country, Bath paved the way for the departure of Richard Butland, their disaffected second-string outside-half, by buying out the remaining year of his contract.