Rugby Union: Vickery citing scuppered by `failure to follow procedure'

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THE great and good of the Five Nations committee yesterday scrapped the 30-day suspension imposed on the England prop, Phil Vickery, who was cited by the Welsh management for punching during last weekend's international at Twickenham. The volte-face left Vickery free to resume playing immediately and left the rest of Europe wondering how so many Englishmen manage to avoid carrying the can for their transgressions.

Vickery, the 21-year-old tight head from Gloucester, is the latest in an illustrious line of England forwards to escape justice for alleged violent conduct. Tim Rodber played in the 1994 Cape Town Test against the Springboks despite having been sent off for his part in an unholy dust-up with Eastern Province a mere four days earlier. Some 20 months later, Jason Leonard was accused by the Scots of inflicting a brutal punch on Rob Wainwright during a Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield, but was cleared in the light of "inconclusive video evidence".

However, Vickery's good fortune in escaping censure for thumping Colin Charvis, the Swansea flanker, during the second half of Saturday's international had nothing to do with the quality of the film footage or, even, the legitimacy of an appeal passionately supported by both Clive Woodward, the England coach, and Roy Manock, the Rugby Football Union's disciplinary officer.

Astonishingly, the Five Nations committee members did not consider whether or not Vickery was guilty of landing the punch. Neither did they consider whether Peter Boyle, the match commissioner from Ireland, was correct in imposing a one-month sentence for an offence that would have earned the perpetrator nothing more than a yellow card had he been dealt with by the referee.

According to Roger Pickering, the Five Nations chief executive, the committee reversed Boyle's decision purely on procedural grounds. "The citing procedure was not followed to the letter," said Pickering. "There were misunderstandings between people who I have no intention of naming and as a result of the legal advice obtained by the committee, the suspension was deemed unsafe."

In other words, a cock-up. While Pickering insisted that there was nothing legally unsound about the citing procedures if properly applied, the system is now so discredited that Woodward and the rest of the England hierarchy are pushing the International Board to sanction an immediate review of disciplinary policy. "The current situation is ludicrously inconsistent," said the coach. "In my opinion, a player should by cited only if he deserves to be sent from the field."

Those Englishmen glorying in the fact that the hapless Welsh could not even manage a proper citing, let alone pick a winning team, were given further comic sustenance yesterday when the Dragons management decided to put their squad in purdah during the run-up to next weekend's match with Scotland. Last week, the Welsh players were publicly predicting their first Twickenham victory since 1988. One 60-point thrashing later, they have effectively been gagged.

Neil Jenkins, the world-class goal-kicker who suffered every imaginable indignity at the hands of the English, did have a word or two for public consumption, however. "I never want to play full-back again," he said after confirming to Kevin Bowring, the Welsh coach, that he wanted to be considered only as an outside-half.