Olivier Azam, one of the great pantomime villains in the professional game, found himself in a fresh spot of bother yesterday, and this time, no one was laughing. The 34-year-old Gloucester hooker was cited for "allegedly making contact with the eyes or eye area" of the Cardiff Blues centre Jamie Roberts during last weekend's EDF Energy Cup final at Twickenham. In other words, he has been accused of gouging – perhaps the deadliest of all rugby sins.
Azam, no stranger to rucks and mauls with officialdom, has been ordered to appear before a Rugby Football Union tribunal in Bristol on Monday after being reported by the former England flanker Mike Rafter, who acted as the disciplinary commissioner at the final, which the Blues won 50-12. If he is found guilty, he can expect a ban of at least six months.
No club would have welcomed such a development, but it was the last thing on earth Gloucester needed after the most fraught 96 hours in their recent history. If their performance in front of almost 60,000 supporters at Twickenham bordered on the embarrassing, their Premiership defeat on home soil by lowly Worcester on Tuesday night was even more damaging. It left them four points off the play-off pace with one game remaining, and as that fixture is at Wasps, the likelihood of them making up the lost ground is remote.
Another international front-row forward also found himself in the spotlight yesterday. Tom Smith, officially the oldest player in the Premiership at 37, announced he would be retiring at the end of the season after nearly 200 appearances for Northampton, winning more than 60 Scotland caps and, most famously, propping the Lions scrum on consecutive tours, playing all three Tests against South Africa in 1997 and Australia in 2001.
Graham Rowntree, the man who lost out to Smith in '97, was full of praise for his friend and rival. "Tom changed the face of propping," he said, referring to Smith's mobility and footballing skills, allied to a superior scrummaging technique that allowed him to outperform far bigger opponents. "The decision to pick Tom for the Test side on that trip was perhaps the pivotal selection of the series."
Meanwhile, the Ospreys coach Sean Holley had some sharp words for the management of this year's Lions, who return to Springbok country next month. Holley was profoundly unimpressed by the omission of the Wales captain Ryan Jones, who also leads the Swansea-based regional side. "I'm really disappointed for Ryan because I feel he has done enough over the past two years to merit selection," he said. "If there was someone out there head and shoulders above him, I could understand it. But I'm not sure there is, so it's a harsh call and a mistake."Reuse content