Exeter, undeniably the success story of this Premiership campaign despite hitting a large brick wall over the last three weeks, should be safe from relegation by now. All things being equal, they cannot be overtaken by Leeds, even in the unlikely event of the Yorkshiremen winning each of their remaining matches with attacking bonus points. But things may not stay equal for long, thanks to an alarming oversight on the paperwork front that could see some of the Devonians' hard-earned rewards taken away from them.
The Rugby Football Union will, over the next day or so, summon last season's promoted club to a disciplinary hearing following revelations that three foreign players, rather than the permitted two, were included in the match-day squads for recent games at London Irish and Leeds. Exeter were beaten on both occasions, but they secured a losing bonus in the second of those fixtures and can therefore expect to have it removed from their tally. If the governing body gets on its high horse, the club could be docked at least four points: the equivalent of a Premiership victory.
Thanks to the Bosman and Kolpak rulings, it is not easy to define "foreign" in the sporting context, particularly when Pacific islanders arrive on these shores wielding passports from third countries. Nemani Nadolo, the outsized Fijian wing who has made a significant impact at Sandy Park since January, falls into this category, having entered England with Australian documentation. Nadolo was in the squad on the two dates in question, as were the prop Hoani Tui, a New Zealander, and the outside-half Ignacio Mieres, an Argentine.
Tony Rowe, the Exeter chief executive, was contacted by the RFU last week and promptly withdrew Nadolo from the side that lost at Bath on Saturday. "This was partly down to a clerical error on the club's part," Rowe explained yesterday. "We are aware this will need to go before a disciplinary panel and we intend to co-operate fully. We hope the authorities will take into account our previous good record. There was no intention on our part to try to gain any kind of unfair advantage."
Meanwhile, the England full-back Ben Foden has been warned as to his future conduct following a much-publicised run-in with the Metropolitan Police last month. Foden, who spent a night in the cells on suspicion of causing criminal damage to a taxi and later accepted a police caution, discussed the incident with the RFU's chief disciplinary officer, Judge Jeff Blackett, and was told in no uncertain terms that such behaviour was considered unacceptable. As part of his apology to the game at large, Foden has agreed to make a donation to a rugby-related charity.
Ospreys, one of several major contenders who came up short in this season's Heineken Cup tournament, have retained the services of their 25-year-old captain, the Lions Test lock Alun Wyn Jones, despite heavy interest from France, Jones agreed a three-year contract extension with the Swansea-based side yesterday, joining fellow international forwards Ryan Jones and Jonathan Thomas in sticking with the underperforming club.
"It's taken longer than I expected," he admitted. "I'm a supporter and like them, I feel disappointed if we fail to hit high standards. I wanted to speak to the board and understand their long-term plans. The evolution taking place here is very positive."