Wasps in the clear after refusing to play at Sale

Tribunal dismisses charges against London club which found pitch not to its liking
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The Independent Online

Wasps, widely condemned for pulling out of their Premiership game at Sale late last month because of concerns over the state of the Edgeley Park pitch, last night escaped censure when a disciplinary panel dismissed all charges against the former champions. The tribunal members did not offer an immediate explanation of their reasoning, but as the London club acted within ill-defined regulations laid down by the sport's supreme governing body, a conviction was never a probability.

The floodlit match on 27 November was called off shortly before kick-off when Wasps officials found part of the pitch to be too wet for their liking. Sale were furious at the visitors' refusal to play, not least because thousands of spectators were already in the ground. Their mood was not lightened by the fact that the referee, David Rose, was happy for the match to proceed.

This highlighted the glaring conflict between Premiership regulations, which identify the referee as the final arbiter in any dispute, and the International Rugby Board's Law 1.6, which states, not terribly helpfully: "If either team has objections about the ground or the way it is marked out, they must tell the referee before the match starts. The referee will attempt to resolve the issues but must not start the match if any part of the ground is considered to be dangerous." Confusingly, the wording fails to specify who is entitled to do the considering.

While Wasps have earned themselves something of a reputation for walking away from games on pitches they do not fancy, previous incidents played no part in yesterday's four-hour hearing. The Londoners were always confident of winning the argument and it may be that Premier Rugby Ltd, the tournament administrators, review their regulations. It is all very well in theory to leave the decision to the referee, but in practice, no official will be comfortable forcing a team to play against its wishes – especially in this litigious age.

Harlequins, slowly rediscovering their equilibrium after the close-season trauma of the fake blood affair, took another significant step in the right direction yesterday by securing the services of their highly-regarded head coach, John Kingston for another two and a half years. Kingston refused to contemplate stepping into the director of rugby role, still vacant some four months after the resignation of the disgraced Dean Richards, but the Londoners were more than happy to keep him in his preferred job.

"John has been at Harlequins nearly a decade and knows the club intimately," said the chief executive Mark Evans. "He has been instrumental in building the young and exciting team we have." For his part, Kingston talked of the "giant strides" made by Quins in recent seasons, adding: "I feel we have developed a style the players enjoy, which allows them to express themselves in a positive manner. With our summer issues behind us, I have no doubt the next years will be exciting."

Evans confirmed last week that an announcement on the director of rugby appointment was imminent. Two contrasting names – those of the ultra-experienced Lions veteran Ian McGeechan and the younger, less worldly-wise former England No 8 Tony Diprose – have repeatedly been mentioned as serious candidates, but whatever the outcome, the new man will be expected to work alongside Kingston rather than lord it over him. This would not be remotely difficult for Diprose, who is already on the coaching staff at the Stoop.

Kingston's calm, cleverly judged spell of caretakership has won him many admirers. After a rough start to the Premiership campaign – entirely predictable given the havoc wreaked by the Richards scandal – Quins have lost only one of their last seven league matches and have worked their way back into the top half of the table.

Remarkably, the final of the Heineken Cup, scheduled for 22 May at Stade de France, has effectively sold out already. The last of the 54,000 tickets made available for public sale have been purchased – an unprecedentedly brisk piece of business – and with the remainder being reserved for supporters of the finalists, a capacity crowd of 80,000 is guaranteed.

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