Ban possible for Byrne over '16th man' charge

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The Independent Online

Lee Byrne, the Lions full-back and a surefire starter for Wales against England at Twickenham on Saturday week, faces a charge of misconduct over his role in the bizarre "16th man" affair that distorted the outstanding Heineken Cup tie between Ospreys and Leicester at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea last Saturday.

Ospreys have been similarly accused and if both team and player are found guilty at a European Rugby Cup disciplinary hearing tomorrow, the ramifications could be serious.

While the Welsh hierarchy is confident of Byrne remaining available for the England game on 6 February, a short ban is not out of the question. Ospreys, meanwhile, are most likely to be fined in the event of the case against them being proved. Leicester, awash with legal advice from specialist sports lawyers, have suggested that a replay might be in order, but this is considered unlikely.

ERC, rugby union's governing body for the European game, that also found itself dealing with the fake blood business at Harlequins last season, convened this latest high-profile hearing after receiving a report from Roger O'Connor, its disciplinary officer. Ospreys had 16 men on the field for almost a minute, and Leicester claim that Byrne, who had returned to the field following treatment while his replacement Sonny Parker was still in situ, was instrumental in preventing them scoring a try.

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