Tuilagi set for a miserable birthday bash

Leicester's centre to learn length of ban today for his punch, while coach Cockerill rejects swearing claims
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The Independent Online

Manu Tuilagi, the brilliant young Leicester centre, turns 20 today – and a fat lot of fun he is likely to have, given that he will spend a significant chunk of his birthday in the company of a Rugby Football Union disciplinary panel at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Tuilagi has been formally charged with punching the Northampton wing Chris Ashton during last weekend's high-voltage Premiership semi-final at Welford Road, and at this stage in proceedings, it is difficult to imagine what a convincing defence case might look like. Perhaps he should ask Robin Goodliffe to come up with one.

The only reason the Samoan-born player was not shown a red card on Saturday was that Goodliffe, running the line for the World Cup referee Wayne Barnes, thought he saw things that didn't happen while failing to spot things that did. If anyone is to blame for Tuilagi being allowed to continue after a brief spell in the sin bin, it is not Tuilagi. Not that Judge Jeff Blackett, the governing body's chief disciplinary officer, is likely to take this into account when it comes to banning the accused from the grand final at Twickenham in 10 days' time.

Meanwhile, the fur continued to fly over the alleged misdemeanours of the Leicester coach Richard Cockerill, accused by some observers of using foul and aggressive language towards Brian Campsall, a member of the RFU's elite refereeing management team who was sitting near Cockerill as events unfolded. Those positively aching to see the former England hooker standing alongside Tuilagi in the dock enjoyed no immediate satisfaction, and when Cockerill addressed the subject yesterday, he fought his corner with customary gusto.

"I want to state categorically that I did not use abusive language or act aggressively towards Brian," he insisted. "I have spoken to him, and to Ed Morrison [the head of the referees' unit] and they have no issue with my behaviour during the game. I take great offence at how this has been reported. As far as I'm concerned I have no case to answer, and I find it a little bit wrong that these things can be made up and written. I get slagged off and am made to look a foul-mouthed yob when it's not the case."

Gloucester had disciplinary issues of their own as they sought to clear up the mess left by their players' latest adventures in social networking. Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu – what is it with Samoan centres at the moment? – reacted to his side's narrow semi-final defeat at Saracens by tweeting his concerns about the refereeing of Andrew Small and describing the Watford-based club as "horribly boring". He also made a spectacularly clumsy attempt at topical humour by writing that Owen Farrell, the Sarries outside-half, "put more bombs on us than the US did on Osama bin Laden". Oh dear.

Unsurprisingly, Gloucester officials felt obliged to intervene. "We are meeting with every player over the next two days as part of our end-of-season process," said Bryan Redpath, the head coach. "I will remind each of his position as a spokesman and ambassador of the club. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but views are monitored by thousands online. Professional players have to be more aware of this, and more responsible in their postings."

Worcester, nine points ahead of the game after last week's Championship final first-leg victory over Cornish Pirates in Penzance, are hot favourites to be promoted to the Premiership after tonight's concluding fixture at Sixways. The Scotland centre Alex Grove replaces Alex Crockett in the one change to Richard Hill's starting line-up.

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