Bristol's future in the European Shield will be decided tomorrow when the club will be asked to answer claims that they included an ineligible player in the squad for the quarter-final tie against Biarritz earlier this month, a game which they won 32-29. Bristol are due to play Pau in the semi-final in Tarbes on 6 May.
The Bristol director of rugby, Bob Dwyer, and the chief executive, Nick de Scossa, will answer the charges before a disciplinary panel of the European Cup Ltd in Dublin. The club are likely to plead guilty to the charge having included the prop Leighton Gerrard in the 22-strong squad.
Bristol could face a fine, a reprimand or even be thrown out of this season's comp- etition. There could also be implications about the club's presence in either the Cup or Shield next season.
Gerrard had been regis-tered by his previous club, Neath, for the European Cup and had appeared in all six of their pool games this season before moving to Bristol. The club will claim that they were in a "no-win" situation because the rejection of Gerrard's registration did not come through until they were already in France. Clubs are required to include five named front-row players in the squad who are "suitably trained and experienced". Leaving out Gerrard would have been a breach of this regulation.
Dwyer had spoken with Biarritz officials as well as the match commissioner, Terry Vaux, but he was unable to determine what - if any - action would be taken against the club.
Dwyer continued: "We had no alternative at that stage of the proceedings other than to name Leighton on the bench otherwise the game couldn't have gone ahead. The commissioner agreed with my assessment of the situation so the game went ahead. In the end Leighton didn't take any part in the match."
The Biarritz president, Marcel Martin, has written to Bristol advising them that, although not wishing to dispute Bristol's victory, there had been a breach of the rules. "We have not filed a claim against Bristol, we lost on the pitch and it is not our policy to seek wins in the committee rooms," he said. "However, I have drawn it to ERC's attention that if rules exist, then both clubs should abide by them. It is also ERC's duty to enforce them."
Bristol and London Irish, who play Castres in the other semi-final, are to ask the Rugby Football Union to underwrite their expenses of around £20,000 per club because the two French teams will incur little cost for their participation in the fixtures.
Northampton have bought an additional 5,000 tickets from Twickenham after selling their initial 15,000 allocation for the Tetley's Bitter Cup final against Wasps on 13 May.
The Scottish Rugby Union has appointed Phil Anderton - the man responsible for the Daz Doorstep Challenge - to the new post of marketing and commercial director. Anderton, 35, credited with overseeing Procter and Gamble's Daz TV commercials, has experience in sport sponsorship.
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