Rugby Union: Welsh angered by butt

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The Independent Online
The Welsh Rugby Union yesterday demanded action from the French federation against Olivier Merle, the second-row forward whose head-butt led to Ricky Evans breaking his left leg at an early stage of last Saturday's international in Paris. Analysis of a video recording of the incident by Edward Jones, the WRU secretary, yesterday afternoon took place too late for Merle to be formally cited inside the 24-hour limit stipulated in the Five Nations' agreement on discipline.

However, the Welsh were not aware of what had occurred until it was highlighted on Rugby Special after they had returned home on Sunday. After being butted Evans fell awkwardly and then the French prop Laurent Benezech fell awkwardly on Evans, who will not play again this season nor in all probability in the World Cup that follows.

"The Welsh Rugby Union abhors foul play and I have written to the French federation expressing grave concern about this incident of foul play," Jones said yesterday. "I have asked the FFR to review the video evidence and take appropriate action." The federation has yet to respond.

The Merle incident, on top of the dismissal of Olivier Magne in the A game which preceded the main event in Paris, is a considerable embarrassment to the French after the efforts they have made to improve their image. Pierre Berbizier, the coach, has been willing to impose his own discipline by dropping even such distinguished players as Olivier Roumat and Abdel Benazzi to reinforce the point.

The Franco-Welsh contretemps is powerful evidence for an independent body being empowered to take proceedings against the perpetrators of foul play. A rugby union complaining to another is wide open to counter-complaints and one can just imagine the French examining every second of video footage to assess the Welsh players' conduct.

Evans's was the latest in a series of injury blows that have befallen Wales but the month-long gap until they play England will give three of their walking wounded time to regain fitness.

The Lions wing, Ieuan Evans, will tomorrow announce plans for his comebackand may join the centre Nigel Davies in resuming for Llanelli in Saturday's cup tie against Glynneath. Likewise the No 8 Emyr Lewis is due to return in the cup for Cardiff against Pyle.

Alan Watkins, page 30

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