Abbott ruling brings referee a reprimand

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The England centre Stuart Abbott was not the only loser when a Rugby Football Union disciplinary panel lobbed a three-week ban in his direction yesterday. David Rose, a member of the union's elite refereeing panel, also copped it for failing to dismiss Abbott during the London Irish-Harlequins match at Twickenham on the opening day of the Premiership season.

Surprisingly, given the unquestioning support generally granted to referees by committee types, Rose was sharply criticised in a judgement signed by the union's chief disciplinary officer, Judge Jeff Blackett, who chaired the hearing into the Quins player's alleged "spear-tackling" of the Exiles' scrum-half Paul Hodgson. "The panel concluded the referee did not take sufficient account of International Rugby Board directives and the potential risks inherent in turning a player upside down," the judgement said. "His decision not to send the player off was, therefore, wrong."

Abbott, who was shown a yellow card and spent 10 first-half minutes in the cooler, admitted a charge of dangerous tackling but argued that Rose had dealt with the matter in an appropriate fashion. Despite glowing testimonials from a range of high-profile rugby figures, Abbott was suspended until 3 October and ordered to pay £250 in costs. Assuming he decides against appealing, he will miss Premiership games against Wasps and Leicester, plus the opening round of the EDF Energy Cup.

In New Zealand, the All Blacks coach, Graham Henry, moved to reassure two Test wings, Rico Gear and Doug Howlett, and the midfielder

Luke McAlister, who were omitted from his so-called "cotton-wool" conditioning squad ahead of next year's World Cup. Henry considers Gear and Howlett to be "self-sufficient" trainers and wants McAlister to have more game time.

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