Haskell faces ban as Wasps' troubles mount

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The Independent Online

Wasps, the reigning Premiership champions who are currently performing a brilliant impersonation of relegation certainties, have quite enough on their plate without having to bother with disciplinary issues. Unfortunately for them, two forwards have landed themselves in trouble and will appear before the bench in London on Monday afternoon. James Haskell, the England flanker, stands accused of butting the lock Greg Rawlinson towards the end of last weekend's surprising defeat by Worcester at Adams Park, while the second-rower Richard Birkett faces a charge of stamping on Netani Talei in the same match.

Judge Jeff Blackett, the chief disciplinary officer of the Rugby Football Union, will hear both cases, in company with Peter Budge and the former England prop Jeff Probyn, who, interestingly enough, played the vast majority of his rugby at Wasps. If found guilty, Haskell faces a minimum suspension of four weeks – in the unlikely event of the tribunal throwing the book at him, he could get as much as two years – while a conviction for Birkett would see him banned for at least a fortnight.

Martin Johnson, the recently-appointed England manager, will keep a particularly close eye on events surrounding Haskell, who is considered a certainty to start the first fixture of the international season, against the Pacific Islands, at Twickenham in early November. Haskell was one of precious few successes on the red rose tour of New Zealand last summer.

Bristol, another club to have lost both Premiership matches to date, have dropped two experienced internationals, the Ireland centre Kevin Maggs and the Wales lock Robert Sidoli, for tonight's home match with Sale. Ed Barnes, an outside-half by instinct and upbringing, makes his first start in the No 12 position, while Nathan Budgett shifts across from the blind-side flank to join Mariano Sambucetti in the engine room.

Richard Hill, the Bristol coach, has also promoted Graeme Beveridge, the scrum-half, and Alex Clarke, the loose-head prop, to starting positions as a result of last weekend's error-ridden performance at Harlequins. With Alfie To'oala, a confusing character who played at the last World Cup for Tonga under a different name, and Dan Ward-Smith coming into a reshaped back row, Hill's displeasure with events at the Stoop are plain for all to see.

There are changes in the Sale line-up too, although Philippe Saint-Andre and his coaching colleagues have the luxury of selecting from considerable strength. Mark Cueto, something of a forgotten man these days despite going within millimetres of scoring a try for England in last year's World Cup final, is back in the starting XV, while the 2005 Lions scrum-half Dwayne Peel gets a run ahead of Richard Wigglesworth.

Peel's appearance is of considerable interest, not least because like Wigglesworth, he is keen to revive his international fortunes after recent setbacks. The Welshman lost his privileged place amongst the Red Dragonhood to the sturdier, more physical Michael Phillips last season, but with Phillips struggling for fitness, Peel has an obvious opportunity ahead of the autumn Tests.

Talking of Lions, one of the iconic figures of recent British Isles collectives, the former Ireland hooker Keith Wood, has joined the London Irish board with immediate effect. Capped 58 times for his country, the 36-year-old Munsterman has, according to a club spokesman, "developed a considerable network in business, the media and sport generally". In other words, he is worth a few quid. He will be joined in the boardroom by Nigel Northridge, a business executive and London Irish supporter of long standing.