Clohessy's swift summons to race hearing

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The Independent Online

The Rugby Football Union's legal department considers the Olivier Azam affair to be littered with potential pitfalls and elephant traps, hence the delay in activating the independent investigation into disputed claims that the Gloucester hooker called the Newcastle flanker Epi Taione a "black bastard" during a Premiership match at Kingsholm last month. The directors of the Heineken Cup do things at a sharper pace. They are so keen to deal with their own racial abuse issue that they will hold a disciplinary hearing in Dublin tomorrow, less than a week after the alleged incident.

Castres have accused Munster's international prop Peter Clohessy of subjecting Ismaella Lassissi, a flanker from Côte d'Ivoire, to "racial and discriminatory" comments during the fiery pool game at Stade Pierre-Antoine on Saturday. Munster had previously cited Lassissi for biting Clohessy on the arm in the 58th minute of the contest.

The board of European Rugby Cup Ltd favours swift justice: during the 1999-2000 Heineken competition, the Colomiers prop Richard Nones appeared before a disciplinary commissioner within minutes of the end of a game at Pontypridd and left the hearing with a two-year ban for gouging. Last weekend, the Gloucester prop Trevor Woodman was given an immediate six-week ban following his dismissal for stamping during the Parker Pen Shield game at La Rochelle.

ERC sources said last night that a three-man panel would hear the allegations against Clohessy and Lassissi. However, the complications of a racial abuse complaint, which cannot be substantiated by video evidence, may mean a second hearing into the accusations relating to Clohessy is a probability.

Yesterday, the Castres hierarchy insisted the club would stand by Lassissi. "The complaint of biting is nonsense," the president, Pierre-Yves Revol, said. "Lassissi has always behaved impeccably, and has never received a punishment. We will defend the interests of our player, whose sincerity is not in question." Meanwhile, Lassissi protested his innocence. "I am at peace with my conscience," he said.

Two of the Shield quarter-finals will be played under lights on Friday week: the Gloucester-Ebbw Vale match at Kingsholm will kick off at 7.05pm for broadcasting reasons, while the Sale-Bristol match at Heywood Road is listed for 7.30pm. London Irish take on Pau at Stade du Hameau a week on Saturday, while Saracens host Pontypridd at Vicarage Road on the Sunday.

Gloucester are without last season's first-choice front row for this weekend's Powergen Cup quarter-final at London Irish. Woodman and Azam are suspended, while Phil Vickery, the Lions tight head, broke a bone in his hand in La Rochelle. He is out of England's Six Nations match with Scotland, and may also miss the Ireland game on 16 February.

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