Payne cleared but Powell still awaits his fate

Wasps prop free to face Bath at Twickenham but Wales No 8 still subject of club inquiry after fracas
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The Independent Online

Tim Payne, one of two international forwards suspended by Wasps officials investigating a vicious outbreak of violence in a west London pub on Monday night, was yesterday cleared of any wrongdoing and given the go-ahead to play in tomorrow's St George's Day match with Bath at Twickenham. There was no such good news for his colleague in adversity, Andy Powell. The big Welshman, who toured South Africa with the British and Irish Lions in 2009, is still the subject of an internal inquiry and remains persona non grata as far as selection is concerned.

Not that Powell would have been fit to play anyway, having suffered a nasty head wound during his altercation with a group of football supporters. To make matters worse for the former Cardiff Blues No 8, those members of the Wasps management looking into the circumstances of the dust-up in Shepherd's Bush were less than impressed by his decision to talk publicly about the incident. "He will remain under suspension until this [the investigation] has been concluded," said a club spokesman.

In more routine disciplinary matters, the Gloucester hooker Olivier Azam has been accused of butting the Northampton lock Adam Eustace during Tuesday night's fiery Premiership meeting at Kingsholm. The Frenchman, who appeared to take exception to Eustace's rough treatment of a Gloucester player on the floor in the early stages of the game, was cited by none other than Wade Dooley, who was rarely mistaken for a pacifist during his long career as an England forward.

Dooley was one of two citing officers who raised their heads above the parapet yesterday. The other, John Byett, accused another of Northampton's second-rowers, Tim Sorenson, of making a dangerous tackle on Tim Swinson during his club's narrow victory at Newcastle a week ago. Both Azam and Sorenson will have their cases heard next Wednesday, as will Exeter, who stand to lose at least one hard-earned Premiership point for naming three foreign players in their squad for the recent matches at London Irish and Leeds, rather than the permitted two.

The Devonians can expect an even warmer welcome this afternoon when they visit Sale for their penultimate Premiership match of the season. Last week, the Exeter chairman Tony Rowe had some interesting things to say about facilities at Edgeley Park, stating that he was "not looking forward to sitting in a tired old stadium where you have to hold your nose when you go to the toilet". This prompted a sharp response from Steve Diamond, the executive director of sport at Sale, who was heard talking about "a stupid comment from a guy... I'd never heard of".

Charlie Hodgson, the outside-half who can legitimately claim to be one of the finest players in Sale history, plays his last home game, having chosen to join Saracens next season, while two fellow internationals, the Wales scrum-half Dwayne Peel and the England prop Andrew Sheridan, are back after injury. Exeter give a first Premiership start to the Argentine stand-off Ignacio Mieres.

Up in the North-East, Newcastle continue their desperate fight against relegation with a game against table-topping Leicester at Kingston Park this evening. "It doesn't get any easier," confessed Jimmy Gopperth, the Tynesiders' best player by a country mile and now captain to boot. Interestingly, the coaching team have decided against recalling the senior scrum-half Micky Young to their starting line-up, preferring to stick with Chris Pilgrim. This may have something to do with Young's recent announcement of a move to Leicester next term.

The champions travel without their England half-backs, Toby Flood and Ben Youngs, but are close to full strength elsewhere.

* Tom Shanklin, the strong-running Cardiff Blues back who toured New Zealand with the Lions in 2005, has retired from rugby because of chronic knee problems. "I can do everyday things, but with regards to rugby – accelerating, change direction, weight-lifting – it's not too good," said the 31-year-old, who won 70 caps for Wales and is their most decorated centre. "This isn't a shock. I've had time to come to terms with never playing again." He plans to work in the construction business.