The England management, already shaken by the loss of three first-choice forwards ahead of the Six Nations Championship opener against Wales in Cardiff a fortnight tomorrow, have a fresh problem with one of their more troublesome individuals. Delon Armitage, the London Irish full-back, was ordered to appear before a Rugby Football Union disciplinary tribunal this afternoon accused of pushing an anti-doping officer following a club game with Bath on New Year's Day. If found guilty, he will be lucky to play again this season.
Armitage, currently playing second fiddle to Ben Foden at Test level but very much a part of the red rose set-up, is also accused of using threatening and/or abusive and obscene language towards the officer, who was carrying out checks on behalf of the UK Anti-Doping agency and had nominated the full-back for a routine test immediately after the match, won by Bath with the final move of the afternoon. The test proved negative.
Judge Jeff Blackett, one of the men at the heart of Twickenham's campaign to restore the sport's "core values" following the fake blood affair at Harlequins and the drugs scandals at Bath, was asked to preside over the hearing at his offices in the Royal Courts of Justice. Yesterday, the governing body confirmed that Armitage had been charged with conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game.
While the precise circumstances of this case are unique in the professional game, disciplinary guidelines suggest Armitage is in serious strife, especially given the RFU's sensitivity to all drugs-related issues. Physical abuse of match officials can, in theory, result in a life ban; the minimum sanction is a six-month suspension. If the panel decide Armitage is guilty and consider a doping officer to be in the same category as a referee or touch judge, the punishment is likely to be severe.
On a bad day for London Irish, the centre Seilala Mapusua confirmed his departure at the end of the campaign. "While we're disappointed he won't be with us next season, he is at a stage in his career where he needs to be thinking about his next steps," said the director of rugby, Toby Booth, of the 30-year-old Samoan, who will play in Japan with Kubota Spears.
Jack Cuthbert, the gangling Bath full-back, is one of three uncapped players in Scotland's squad for the Six Nations. Cuthbert, who qualifies through his Glasgow-born mother, is joined by two forwards from that city, the prop Jon Welsh and the versatile back-five operator Robert Harley. Andy Robinson, the coach, has also included the gifted No 8 Johnnie Beattie, despite his long injury absence from competitive rugby – a situation not helped by Glasgow, who neglected to nominate him for the Heineken Cup pool stage.
Geordan Murphy, the Leicester captain who suffered an ankle injury during his club's Premiership victory over Northampton earlier this month, has, as expected, been left out of Ireland's preparations. So too has the Munster scrum-half Tomas O'Leary, who loses out to Eoin Reddan and the veteran Peter Stringer. The surprise inclusion is the uncapped 29-year-old Connacht loose forward Mike McCarthy.
Perhaps the most intriguing squad news came from France, where two of the big names at the Stade Français club – Julien Dupuy, the goalkicking scrum-half, and Mathieu Bastareaud, the brick-outhouse centre – were dumped by coach Marc Lièvremont. Another high-profile casualty was Clermont Auvergne wing Julien Malzieu.
Lièvremont was particularly sharp in his reference to Bastareaud. "I asked him, before the Tests in November, to improve his physical form and state of mind," he said. "I wasn't listened to. From all the feedback I've had from Stade Francais, there are better players at outside centre.
"Even if there is an injury, we'll call up Malzieu because we like Clement Poitrenaud in midfield."Reuse content