Cockerill earns a reprieve while Venter rues union's rough justice

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The Independent Online

The Rugby Football Union really has it in for the Saracens boss Brendan Venter: even when criticising a rival coach, it cannot help laying into the World Cup-winning Springbok. While Venter prepares to spend the weekend babysitting his five-year-old son Joshua at the family home in St Albans – he has little else to occupy him, having been excluded from Twickenham and its environs for the duration of tomorrow's Premiership final with Leicester – the governing body continues to attack with him with every available weapon.

Judge Jeff Blackett, the RFU's chief disciplinary officer, announced yesterday that he would not be taking direct action against the Leicester head coach Richard Cockerill, who treated television viewers to an uncanny impersonation of an Icelandic volcano during his side's semi-final victory over Bath earlier this month. "Rugby is a game of passion and emotion," said Blackett, who has written to Cockerill warning him against future eruptions. "But as the game increases in profile and popularity, the conduct of those in the public eye comes under ever closer scrutiny and it is important those roles models set an example."

Having got that off his chest, the judge turned to his pet subject. "Inevitably, given the timing, comparison will be drawn with the Brendan Venter case, but in my mind they are materially different. Brendan Venter's actions were sustained and designed to provoke others in a manner that may have led to a serious disturbance in the crowd, and that is not acceptable."

Venter is serving a 10-week match-day coaching ban after being found guilty of behaviour prejudicial to the interests of the game, a charge relating to his fiery tête-à-tête with Leicester fans during a recent league match at Welford Road. The suspension is nowhere near as heavy as it sounds, given that Saracens have only one meaningful fixture between now and the back end of August, but by putting an anti-Venter force field around Twickenham on the day of a grand final, they have cut him to the quick.

Many in the game consider the punishment to be draconian. Certainly, the RFU's decision to highlight Venter's "disdain" in eating a chocolate biscuit while being sentenced has struck some as evidence of the self-parody to which the Saracens chief executive Edward Griffiths referred in his sharp response to the judgement. But the die is cast. There may be three Venters at Twickenham tomorrow – the coach's wife and their two eldest children will be present – but the most important one will be stuck at home, digestives at the ready.

It seems just a little ironic that Dean Richards, the disgraced Harlequins director of rugby who has yet to serve a third of the three-year ban imposed for his role in last season's fake blood scandal, was permitted to act as a consultant to Worcester as the relegated club went in search of a new head coach. Whatever the precise extent of his role, the Midlanders have signed themselves a top operator in Richard Hill, who played alongside Richards in England's 1991 World Cup campaign and has since become one of the most sought-after coaches in the country.

"This was an opportunity I could not afford to let go," said Hill, who has been working with the French third-tier side Chalon-sur-Saône since leaving Bristol a little over a year ago. "Everyone knows what a fantastic set-up Worcester have and I intend to do my very best to make this club the successful outfit it should be."

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