Rugby Union: Woodward promises to stand by Dallaglio

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CLIVE WOODWARD, the England coach, continued to stand by Lawrence Dallaglio last night following the news that the former national captain must face a disciplinary hearing to answer drugs allegations.

Dallaglio has been charged with bringing the game into disrepute and with taking recreational drugs during the British Lions tour to South Africa in 1997. The charges follow an investigation by an independent panel which looked into newspaper reports that Dallaglio had claimed he took ecstasy and cocaine at a party at the end of the British Lions tour of South Africa in 1997.

Woodward will name Dallaglio in the final 30-man World Cup squad on 31 August unless circumstances dictate otherwise. Woodward said last night: "I have been informed today of the impending disciplinary hearing for Lawrence Dallaglio. Pending the outcome of the proceedings, my support for Lawrence is unaltered and he will continue to train with the England squad and be available for selection. I do not wish to make any further comment on this until the conclusion of the disciplinary hearing."

Wasps have also remained loyal to their man. The club's chief executive, Simon Crane, said last night: "London Wasps continue to support Lawrence Dallaglio and his family at this time and believe in the principle of `innocent until proven otherwise'."

The three-man independent panel investigating the allegations comprised Sir John Kay, a High Court judge, Bob Rogers, a solicitor from Sussex, and a retired detective superintendent from Devon, Alan Stevens. They interviewed players, officials and members of the media and questioned them closely about the allegations.

Among the players they interviewed were some of those present when the drug-taking is alleged to have taken place, at a day-long party in a bar called The Outback, in Sandton, a suburb of Johannesburg.

The independent panel took statements and included them in an 80-page report, which was presented to the management board. The board clearly felt that the panel had gathered sufficient evidence to warrant the RFU disciplinary officer, Roy Manock, himself a retired solicitor, to bring Dallaglio before a hearing. However, the panel exonerated Dallaglio of all other allegations.

In its statement the RFU said: "The RFU's disciplinary officer... has today decided to instigate disciplinary proceedings regarding the allegations made against Lawrence Dallaglio. The disciplinary panel will base its proceedings on the evidence submitted by the independent inquiry and submissions from Lawrence Dallaglio's legal representatives."

The disciplinary panel which will decide Dallaglio's fate will be chaired by Sir Oliver Popplewell, a High Court judge. He will be supported by two RFU Council members, the former England international centre John Spencer, who is a solicitor, and the Gloucestershire official Keith Plain.

Although a date has not yet been set, the panel is likely to meet within the next 10 days to two weeks. In the meantime it is understood that Dallaglio will continue to train with the England squad as they prepare for the World Cup.

If the panel find Dallaglio guilty the case could spell the end of his career. The case is unprecedented in rugby union. UK Sports Council regulations define ecstasy and cocaine as banned stimulants, but the Sports Council has no influence on how the governing bodies of individual sports conduct such hearings, nor does it give guidelines on appropriate punishment.

However, when the cricketer Ed Giddins was found guilty of using cocaine in 1996 he missed a season and a half and was sacked by his county, Sussex. He returned to the first-class game last season as member of the Warwickshire staff.