Rugby union: Uttley hits back in stamping row

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The Independent Online
IT TOOK five long days for England to give voice to their emotions, but all the incredulity, frustration and bitterness finally came surging to the surface in Auckland last night. The Ian Jones scandal - far from exaggeration, the word "scandal" is a barely sufficient description of the latest cop-out by the so-called custodians of rugby's disciplinary code - may yet lead to a serious re-examination of the southern hemisphere's attitude towards violent misconduct.

Jones, the most-capped second row forward in New Zealand history, appeared before a three-man disciplinary panel in Dunedin last weekend after being cited for stamping on the face of England's loose-head prop, Graham Rowntree, during the early stages of a roughhouse opening Test at Carisbrook. The incident was captured in full and inglorious technicolor by television cameras but, heavily influenced by the testimony of Wayne Erickson, the Australian referee, the panel exonerated the accused.

That decision flabbergasted the tour party at the time and their mood has not brightened one little bit; indeed, rugby relations between the two countries are now about as sweet as vinegar. Roger Uttley, the England manager, confirmed yesterday that he would make a full report of the case to the Rugby Football Union immediately on his return and it is virtually certain that Twickenham officials will use Uttley's narrative as the basis of an official complaint to the International Board, which governs the game worldwide.

Cautiously diplomatic as ever, Uttley stressed that he was not attempting to antagonise the All Blacks in the run-up to this Saturday's Test at Eden Park. Neither, he said, was he acting in time-honoured "whingeing pom" fashion. "While we are not questioning the disciplinary procedures, we believe it is only right to express our disquiet at the outcome," explained the former Lions loose forward, with all the gentleness of tone he could muster. "We want to draw attention to major differences of interpretation and the dangers of applying double standards that inevitably do the game a disservice. We English have a tradition of turning the other cheek but on this issue, it's important to let people know how we feel."

The manager did not say so in as many words, but the tourists consider the Jones incident to have been far more serious than that involving Danny Grewcock, the middle-jumping England lock who was dismissed some 20 minutes later for allegedly kicking Anton Oliver in the head at a collapsed scrum. "You've seen the video of the two incidents," said Uttley. "One simply shows a barely discernible movement of Danny's leg and the referee's reaction to that. The other quite clearly shows a case of boot on head. The position of Jones' own head and hips is, in our view, critical. Both are directly over the head of Graham Rowntree. It is clear that Jones is looking directly at Graham."

Official "crimes act" guidelines issued by the three major southern hemisphere unions, including New Zealand, state that stamping on the head of an opponent is punishable only by instant dismissal. The guidelines define "stamping" as "using the sole of one foot in a downward motion while the player's weight is on the other foot". Much to England's distress, Erickson persuaded the panel that even though Jones' action was an almost flawless embodiment of that definition, he was in fact engaged in "classical rucking" and, therefore, not committing a foul.

Uttley might have said a great deal more than he did. He might, for instance, have called for Erickson to be removed from the international panel of referees; he might also have suggested that John Hart, the All Blacks coach, take unilateral action against Jones on the strength of the video footage, irrespective of the findings of three thoroughly discredited disciplinary judges. He would have been perfectly justified on both counts, but polite discretion carried the day.

Meanwhile, Grewcock will almost certainly leave the tour following this weekend's Test and head for Australia for a short holiday with friends. "I've let down my team-mates and I'm bitterly disappointed," said the 25-year-old Saracen, who now has the dubious honour of being bracketed with Mike Burton, the hard-nut-Gloucester-prop-turned-hard-nut-sporting- entrepreneur, as the only Englishmen ever to be sent off during full international duty.

"I may or may not have made contact with Oliver as I moved away from the collapsed scrum - there were a lot of bodies around and my only priority was to get up quickly and relieve some of the pressure from the front- row guys - but I can assure you there was no intent. I enjoy a physical game but head-kicking is against everything rugby stands for. The referee and the disciplinary panel have made their decision and I'll abide by it, but I've found the last few days very difficult." His absence will be keenly felt, especially as Garath Archer, England's other first-choice lock, turned an ankle in training yesterday and returned on crutches to the team hotel. Meanwhile, Jones is free to win his 72nd cap on Saturday. Funny old game, rugby.

n The centre Walter Little has withdrawn from the All Blacks side to face England in Saturday's second Test with a foot injury, and will be replaced by Auckland's Caleb Ralph, who makes his Test debut.

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