Leicester turn up heat in saga of Ospreys' 16th man

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The Independent Online

The 16th-man saga is in danger of turning legal and, hence, exceedingly messy. Leicester last night revealed they have appointed a law firm to act for them in their efforts to get last Saturday's Heineken Cup eliminator with the Ospreys replayed.

The Tigers' statement will inevitably be seen by the Welsh region as designed to put pressure on European Rugby Cup as the tournament organisers continue the investigations into the farce at the Liberty Stadium which saw Lee Byrne play for almost a minute as an extra player just as Leicester were launching a string of attacks.

Competition rules state the 17-12 result – which meant the Ospreys advancing to the quarter-finals at the expense of the English champions – has to stand.

"The Leicester board of directors have reviewed the footage... and believe there is a clear case for concern," read their statement, before stating how Peter Tom, the chairman, had added to the formal complaint by personally writing to Jean-Pierre Lux, the ERC chairman "to detail our concerns". "The club has also instructed a leading firm of sports law specialists to represent them in this matter."

On Monday, Peter Wheeler, the chief executive, mooted the possibility of a replay and the mood at Welford Road is clearly not one of resignation to the Ospreys receiving, at worst, a fine. They believe the tapes not only show Byrne having an effect but also that the Ospreys were culpable for the error.

The lawyers will be asked to look into building a case against the precedents. At the 2003 World Cup, England were fined for the same offence against Samoa and earlier this month Plymouth Albion were cleared for fielding a 16th player against Nottingham last October. The picture has been muddied by Ospreys' claims that a touch-judge informed them the Tigers also had a 16th man on the pitch, though there has been no evidence produced of a Leicester transgression.

There was good news for Martin Johnson concerning the fitness of James Haskell prior to England's Six Nations opener against Wales on 6 February. Haskell suffered a knee injury during Stade Français' 9-7 Heineken Cup defeat by Edinburgh on Saturday, but a scan has shown no structural damage. He will train in the next 36 hours.

Johnson's squad is currently in a training camp in Portugal, although two players – Northampton wing Chris Ashton and Leicester scrum-half Ben Youngs – will return home tonight. Ashton will be available to play for his club in their LV Cup match against Sale on Friday before rejoining the England squad two days later. Youngs, meanwhile, will link up with the England Saxons, who are preparing in Bath for Sunday's game against Ireland A.

In the Welsh camp, Shane Williams, Adam Jones and Matthew Rees will be released from squad training to feature in this weekend's LV Cup action.

* Richard Wigglesworth, the England scrum-half, will leave Sale at the end of the season to join Saracens. Neil Best is joining Worcester from Northampton.

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