Hardliners leave Horan on sidelines

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The Independent Online

It would never happen in Wallaby country, not in a million years, but Tim Horan might have expected something of the kind when he swapped Godzone for Gorblimey at the beginning of last month. The great Australian centre yesterday appealed for common sense to prevail in his embarrassing tangle with Heineken Cup red tape - he is barred from the pool stage of this season's competition because of a registration oversight by his new club, Saracens - but the latest smoke signals from committee land were not remotely encouraging.

It would never happen in Wallaby country, not in a million years, but Tim Horan might have expected something of the kind when he swapped Godzone for Gorblimey at the beginning of last month. The great Australian centre yesterday appealed for common sense to prevail in his embarrassing tangle with Heineken Cup red tape - he is barred from the pool stage of this season's competition because of a registration oversight by his new club, Saracens - but the latest smoke signals from committee land were not remotely encouraging.

Terry Burwell, one of the Rugby Football Union's most influential administrators, wrote to Derek McGrath, the chief executive of European Rugby Cup Ltd, requesting that Horan's case be treated with the utmost sympathy. "That Tim was not registered with the RFU before the Heineken Cup deadline was clearly a straightforward error on Saracens' part, and I informed ERC of that," Burwell said. "However, Derek phoned me straight back to tell me that they were taking a very hard line on eligibility issues." In other words, Horan does not have a prayer.

That the celebrated Queenslander is struggling with injury does not ease his frustration one iota; he confidently expects to be playing by November, yet ERC's Draconian stance will prevent him appearing in Saracens' two hugely significant pool games in January - the matches against Toulouse at Vicarage Road and Ulster in Belfast. The sponsors of the competition are unlikely to celebrate the fact that one of the world's biggest crowd-pullers has been barred from their own tournament, but they have been through enough these last five years to realise that sanity and rugby management are uneasy bed-fellows.

"No, I don't think we'd have a situation like this in the southern hemisphere," Horan said. "I appreciate that there are rules and regulations, but this was just a slip-up. The Heineken is a fantastic competition, exactly the sort of rugby environment everyone wants to be involved in, and I'm no different to any other player: I'm eager to be a part of it. I guess the sponsors feel the same way. When you're backing a tournament as big as this one, you want all the players to be available."

Horan will be permitted to take part in next month's Tetley's Bitter Cup, the draw for which he participated in yesterday. Bath, who virtually monopolised knock-out rugby in a golden era stretching from 1984 to 1995, will have to do things the hard way if they are hankering after a return to Twickenham: should the West Countrymen prevail over Gloucester in the fourth round, they will almost certainly meet Leicester in the last 16.

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