Ospreys rocked by another large fine for missing Ulster fixture

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The Independent Online

Ospreys, the nearest thing the Magners League has to a rock-star team, meet Glasgow tonight in the first of this year's semi-finals, and the indications are that it will be a close-run thing. Yet the match could go to extra-time, a penalty shoot-out and the toss of a coin and still be less dramatic than the Welsh region's off-field wrangles, which continued apace yesterday with a startling fine of £100,000 and the docking of four points, which will be activated at the start of next season's tournament.

The club who lost the services of the celebrity midfielder Gavin Henson without quite understanding why and then ran into a hailstorm of trouble with the Heineken Cup authorities – they were investigated twice in the early months of this year, first for putting 16 men on the field in a big match against Leicester and then for an alleged breach of registration regulations concerning the Springbok scrum-half Ricky Januarie – were up before the bench for a third time for failing to fulfil a league fixture against Ulster in March.

At the time, Ospreys claimed they did not have sufficient front-row forwards to play, citing international calls and injuries. It was not an argument that washed with the Magners League tournament director, and his complaint was upheld by a disciplinary committee chaired by Professor Lorne Crerar, of Scotland. "We found the Ospreys breached the tournament rules and consequently their actions amounted to misconduct," said a spokesman for the tribunal.

There was no response from the Swansea-based club, who will await publication of the full judgment before deciding whether to appeal. Either way, they are looking at more strain on the bank balance. Although they were cleared of any wrong-doing in the Januarie case, they were found guilty of the 16th man charge and fined €25,000. Taken together, the two fines amount to the kind of money needed to re-sign Henson if and when he ends his sabbatical from the sport.

Tonight, the Ospreys will field something approaching a full-strength team featuring James Hook at centre, even though the Wales midfielder is due a shoulder operation that will prevent him touring New Zealand with the national side next month. Four of last summer's Lions Test players – Lee Byrne, Tommy Bowe, Shane Williams and Mike Phillips – feature in the back division.

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