Exiles docked Shield points for fielding Bates

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The Independent Online

It was A close run thing, but London Irish yesterday beat a quality field to secure the honour of being the first club to be docked points in this season's European campaign. A European Rugby Cup disciplinary panel chaired by Peter Boyle - one of two Irish board members, funnily enough - decided that the Exiles had breached eligibility regulations in playing Richard Bates, their 28-year-old South African flanker, against Aurillac in a second-tier Shield match at Stade Jean Alric last weekend.

It was A close run thing, but London Irish yesterday beat a quality field to secure the honour of being the first club to be docked points in this season's European campaign. A European Rugby Cup disciplinary panel chaired by Peter Boyle - one of two Irish board members, funnily enough - decided that the Exiles had breached eligibility regulations in playing Richard Bates, their 28-year-old South African flanker, against Aurillac in a second-tier Shield match at Stade Jean Alric last weekend.

The guilty club must forfeit the two points they claimed by beating the Frenchmen 42-10, while Bates has been ruled out of the remainder of the tournament. Irish still have a realistic chance of winning their four-team group and challenging for the title, which carries the prize carrot of a place in next season's élite Heineken Cup competition, but they will probably have to beat Brive, the former European champions, both home and away to do it.

There is a certain irony that Conor O'Shea's side are the first to put themselves on the wrong side of the beak. Irish reached the semi-finals of last year's Shield largely because Agen, the pool winners, were docked four points for fielding unregistered players in two ties. There were fun and games in last year's Heineken Cup, too, but another French club, Stade Français, were merely fined for playing Brian Lima, their Samoan wing, in contravention of the Euro rule book.

Eligibility issues are fast becoming the bane of the cross-border season.

Tim Horan, one of the biggest bums-on-seats draws in the business, has been barred from playing for Saracens in the pool stage of the Heineken Cup because of a clerical oversight at Vicarage Road, which left the Wallaby unregistered with the Rugby Football Union. Peter Rogers, meanwhile, is the central figure in a serious trial of strength between Cardiff, the most powerful club in Wales, and the administrators at ERC.

A clear favourite for the Lions loose-head berth at the end of the season, Rogers left Newport for Cardiff after the original ERC registration deadline, but before a later, front-row specific deadline expired. Cardiff claim they were told by an ERC source that Rogers could be made available for tonight's major rumble with Bath, but Derek McGrath, the tournament chief executive, is adamant that he is ineligible. The Cardiff management were meeting last night to discuss their next move.

There is also serious concern over Norm Berryman, the outhouse-sized New Zealand centre, who turned out for Castres at Bath last weekend only a few days after playing National Provincial Championship rugby in his own country. Poor McGrath is certainly finding life interesting as he settles into his new job.

On a happier note, Kingsley Jones was yesterday confirmed as Gloucester's captain for the remainder of the season after leading the West Countrymen to an Heineken Cup victory over Llanelli at Stradey Park a week ago. Jones, as good a raconteur as he is an open-side flanker, led the Cherry and Whites to a top three finish in last season's English Premiership before handing over to the All Black lock, Ian Jones, for the new term. The New Zealand Jones lasted less than a month and a half before quitting the captaincy, so the Welsh Jones is back on duty. "It's a great honour," he said. "I think I'm a good skipper." That he is.

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