Howarth, Sinkinson, Hilton plead their cases to IRB

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The Independent Online

Rugby Union's International Board will rule on Wednesday whether New Zealand-born Shane Howarth and Brett Sinkinson should have played for Wales and Englishman David Hilton was right to have played 41 times for Scotland.

In the biggest eligibility scandal ever to have hit one of the world's oldest sports, the IRB set up a three-man judication panel to decide whether the three stars deliberately lied to play international rugby for another country.

Howarth and Sinkinson have both said they believed they had Welsh grandparents while Hilton thought his grandfather was born in Edinburgh. In each case, documentary evidence suggested all three were wrong.

The scandal cast a cloud on this season's Six Nations Championship with Wales unable to field fullback Howarth and forward Sinkinson and prop forward Hilton forced out of the vital final game against, coincidentally, the English.

The panel of leading rugby officials, Jannie Lubbe, South Africa, John Spencer, England, and Ronnie Dawson, Ireland, listened to the comments of all three players on Tuesday as well as several witnesses they called to the meeting at IRB headquarters in Dublin.

The panel is expected to give its decisions on Wednesday and its rulings could set precedents in what has become a gray area.

Team officials have usually taken players on their own word for deciding eligibility while critics have argued that players such as Howarth, Sinkinson and Hilton, chose to play for Wales or Scotland because they were unable to get on the much stronger New Zealand or English lineups.