Saracens pledge to defend Venter over misconduct charge

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The Independent Online

The Saracens director of rugby Brendan Venter, no stranger to controversy this season, was in the thick of it once again last night when the Rugby Football Union accused him of pushing a female Leicester supporter during his side's fiery Premiership victory at Welford Road six days ago. The governing body also made a second allegation against the South African: that he made "provocative or inappropriate gestures and comments" to members of the crowd. He will appear before a disciplinary tribunal in London – at the Royal Courts of Justice, no less – on Tuesday.

Venter, charged under Rule 5.12 relating to conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game, will be joined in the dock by his hooker Schalk Brits, accused of making a foul and abusive gesture to the crowd on being substituted, and the Leicester back-row forward Craig Newby, who stands accused of a dangerous tackle on the Saracens outside-half Glen Jackson.

Saracens were quick to respond, saying they "completely and unequivocally rejected the allegations". Nigel Wray, the chairman, was first out of the blocks in seeking to defend Venter. "I know Brendan well and it is simply inconceivable that a man of such outstanding qualities would act in this manner," he commented. "We will take whatever action is necessary to protect his excellent reputation."

His words were echoed by the chief executive, Edward Griffiths, who claimed Venter had been placed in an "impossible situation" at Welford Road. "Imagine Arsenal playing at Stamford Bridge, and Arsène Wenger being made to watch the game from a seat in the midst of passionate Chelsea season-ticket holders," he said. "It would not happen in football, yet that is exactly what happened on Saturday.

"Brendan did rise from his seat, but only because his view was restricted and he could not otherwise have followed play. Several Leicester supporters did complain and confront him, but it is a complete and total misrepresentation of the facts to suggest Brendan pushed any Leicester supporter. It is astonishing that the RFU has brought and publicised these charges after requesting statements only from Leicester supporters and stewards and so hearing only one side of the story. Brendan, a medical doctor, is rightly appalled that charges have been brought before anybody has even had the courtesy of speaking to him."

Griffiths also defended Brits. "Schalk reacted to shouting, swearing and abuse from Leicester supporters with an inappropriate gesture," he said. "The measure of the man is that, immediately after the match, and entirely unprompted, he walked across to the same group of spectators and offered his apologies."