Rugby Union: Yates under pressure to drop appeal

THE "Kevin Yates is innocent" bandwagon was gathering momentum in the subdued rugby hotbed of Bath yesterday as club-mates, some of them household international names, reaffirmed their intention to stand by the disgraced England prop.

"I've offered Kevin my full support," said Jeremy Guscott, a triple Lion of unblemished character, who has never once been accused of deliberately treading on an opponent's toe, let alone taking a fancy to an unprotected earlobe.

It was, however, by no means certain that Yates would proceed with his appeal against the six-month ban imposed by a three-man Rugby Football Union tribunal in the early hours of Tuesday morning after they had found him guilty of biting Simon Fenn, the London Scottish flanker, during last month's Tetley's Bitter Cup tie at the Recreation Ground. Indeed, the 25-year-old loose head was coming under well-intentioned pressure to bite the bullet, so to speak, and serve his time.

Yates was due to meet Andy Robinson, the Bath coach and a former playing colleague, today to discuss his next step. Having protested his innocence from day one, his immediate reaction in the wake of the verdict was to instruct his legal team to prepare an appeal, notice of which must be served within 14 days. According to his solicitor, Eddie Parladorio, the situation was unchanged yesterday.

"Kevin's paramount concern is to defend his reputation and as far as I am aware, he intends to pursue an appeal," Parladorio said. "We are now waiting for the RFU to present to us, in writing, the reasoning behind the tribunal's decision, which we found disappointing in the extreme."

However, friends and advisers at the Recreation Ground were pressing Yates to balance the obvious leniency of the sentence, which reflected the lack of hard evidence against him, against the rising costs - not to mention the risks - of pursuing a challenge that might backfire by landing him a much longer suspension. Yates has already seen opposition costs of pounds 23,000 awarded against him and Parladorio agreed yesterday: "It is no secret that recourse to the law carries its own financial consequences."

Bath are now keen to draw a line under the affair. Although Yates still faces an internal disciplinary hearing at which his contract could, at worst, be terminated, it is far more likely that the RFU punishment will be viewed as sufficient and that he will be back on first-team duty in August and in a strong position to challenge for a place in England's 1999 World Cup squad.

If Yates does pull on the Bath shirt again, it will look very different to the one he wore in the ill-starred game with London Scottish. Yesterday, the European champions confirmed a three-year, seven-figure kit deal with Adidas that could see world-wide shirt sales of something approaching 100,000 by the spring of 2001.

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