Rugby World Cup: Tournaire free for final as biting charge is rejected

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The Independent Online
IT TOOK them two hours, during which Franck Tournaire's not inconsiderable rear must have squirmed for all it was worth, but a three-man panel of World Cup disciplinarians eventually decided that the French prop had not attempted to dine out on a New Zealander during last Sunday's momentous semi-final at Twickenham and duly cleared him to face Australia in Saturday's climactic showpiece at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

"The decision honours international rugby as well as the disciplinary committee," said Jo Maso, the French manager. It also made his team selection a whole lot easier.

Had Tournaire been found guilty and kicked out of the final, it would have left a deeply unpleasant taste; just as unpleasant, it might be argued, as any illicit helping of All Black ear. The manner in which the Toulouse prop was cited was unsatisfactory in the extreme, instigated as it was by a conversation between a New Zealand television journalist and a tournament official from ... well, New Zealand, as it happened. The disciplinary panel went out of its way to defend the decision of the citing commissioner, the South African Piet Niemann, to haul Tournaire before the authorities, but it would have been far more acceptable had it been Niemann's idea in the first place.

The panel chairman, Mr Neil Bidder QC, said in a statement that his committee had been shown "good video footage" of the alleged incident involving Tournaire and the All Black captain, Taine Randell, and he emphasised that there had been no complaint by Randell, nor any sign of injury. "We heard the player's [Tournaire's] explanation of his actions and considered the video evidence to have been consistent with that explanation.

"In all the circumstances, the committee were not satisfied on a balance of probabilities that the allegation was proved."

All of which drew a fulsome commendation from Maso. "It is very easy for me to play the barrister when I know I am defending the truth," said the former Test centre. "I asked Franck to swear that he had done nothing wrong and he did. In addition, Jim Fleming, the referee, wrote in his match report that there had been no reprehensible behaviour and he came to the hearing to repeat that view. I was very worried, because I did not want to have to deprive Franck of the most emotional moment of his life - a World Cup final. But the future of rugby is safe when we have honest men around us."

Having already lost the Toulouse loose head, Christian Califano, to a disciplinary ban, the French would have struggled to have coped without Tournaire, the strongest tight-head scrummager in the tournament. Pieter de Villiers, his South African-born understudy, has limited experience at Test level, while the remaining prop in the squad, Sylvan Marconnet, is a specialist loose head.

Maso was planning to confirm his line-up this morning, after fitness tests on the full-back Xavier Garbajosa, the flanker Marc Lievremont and the No 8 Christophe Juillet. The Tricolore medics were confident all three would be available for selection, raising the prospect of an unchanged side from the one that put four tries and 43 points past the All Blacks last weekend. The management were, however, considering the claims of Olivier Brouzet, the replacement lock from Begles-Bordeaux, after his outstanding line-out performance during the second half of Sunday's match. Fabien Pelous, the versatile back-five forward from Toulouse, would move to No 8 were Brouzet to be promoted.

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