Agen are banned for two seasons

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The Independent Online

The leading French club Agen were last night banned from all European rugby for two seasons and fined £14,000 for throwing their Parker Pen Shield match with Ebbw Vale in January.

A European Rugby Cup Ltd disciplinary panel, sitting in Dublin, decided that the club had brought the game into disrepute by "contriving to achieve a particular result" ­ a defeat.

Ridiculously, Agen leaked nine tries to the Welsh strugglers ­ one more than they needed to concede to ensure a lack of progress to the quarter-finals and give themselves the luxury of concentrating on the French championship.

Television footage showed one player appearing to laugh as he stopped a few metres short of the Ebbw Vale line, turned 180 degrees and threw the ball straight to a defender.

Currently second behind Perpignan in their domestic championship pool and challenging hard for a place in the end-of-season play-offs, Agen were burdened with a backlog of fixtures at the time of the game at Eugene Cross Park, and officials openly admitted that they considered the Shield tournament an unwanted distraction. By fielding a strong side, in keeping with ERC rules, they drew maximum attention to the fact that they were not interested in winning.

Agen are the first side in European championship rugby to be banished from cross-border competition. There could be serious repercussions, with players leaving the club in search of Heineken Cup rugby.

The Italian coach Brad Johnstone is facing a player mutiny. The Italian Rugby Players Association (AIR) last night said that 10 or more players are set to boycott next week's training camp in Tirrenia.

A statement said: "If Johnstone and his own staff are still in charge, they will not go to the training camp." Italy, under Johnstone, have lost 11 of their 12 Six Nations matches since joining the competition.