Attwood off the hook for stamp after Australian union's blunder

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The Independent Online

There was no suggestion of luck in Dave Attwood's sudden promotion to the England squad for this latest visit to Wallaby country, but the Gloucester lock is more than a little fortunate to be staying here. Charged with two counts of stamping during the drawn game with the Australian Barbarians on Tuesday, Attwood escaped censure because the home union forgot to appoint an independent disciplinary team and asked two of their own to the job instead. The words "booze-up" and "brewery" spring to mind.

The sport's supreme governing body, the International Rugby Board, spent yesterday asking extremely awkward questions of the Australian hierarchy. Embarrassed by the gross mishandling of the Schalk Burger gouging case during last summer's Lions tour of South Africa, the IRB has spent the last year stressing the importance of ensuring that justice is seen to be done and profoundly unamused by this latest failure of procedure.

Attwood was cited by Scott Nowland, an Australian, within an hour of the final whistle, and appeared before Paul Tully, another Australian, at a city hotel shortly after breakfast. Under IRB regulations, the jobs should have been performed by non-Australians. The England management did not have the first idea that the disciplinary operation for Tuesday's game was being run by locals, and would certainly have objected had they done so, not least because they have had their fill of dodgy home-town verdicts during these tours, most notably in New Zealand.

Rob Andrew, the director of elite rugby at Twickenham, accompanied Attwood to the hearing, and the 23-year-old forward was represented, albeit from afar, by Richard Smith QC, who has been arguing on behalf of troubled England tourists for the last seven years. Work commitments prevented Smith from travelling here, but he was able to participate via a conference call facility and wasted little time in convincing Tully of the obvious procedural difficulties. With the IRB concerned at the potential for a really serious case of on-field violence to go unpunished because of regulatory errors, the England management may make a diplomatic gesture by warning Attwood, whom they regard extremely highly, to be a little more careful in future. The first of the alleged stamps, on the Wallaby scrum-half Josh Valentine, was not obvious on the match video, but the Australians certainly felt he had a case to answer in respect of a second-half incident involving his opposite number Mitchell Chapman, who needed treatment for a head wound before returning to the fray.

Ironically enough, a fully independent disciplinary team is about to arrive in town ahead of the first Test with the Wallabies this weekend and will stay in Australia for the two remaining matches on this leg of the tour: another meeting with the Barbarians in Gosford next Tuesday, followed by the concluding international in Sydney on Saturday week. Quite why the ARU did not save themselves a whole lot of trouble by flying them in a couple of days earlier is anyone's guess.

Meanwhile, the Northampton flanker Phil Dowson, one of the stand-out players in last season's Guinness Premiership, has been summoned as replacement for the stricken Leeds flanker Hendre Fourie, out of the tour with calf and ankle problems. Fourie started against the Barbarians and distinguished himself with a try-saving tackle on Berrick Barnes before calling it quits at half-time. Dowson, unlucky not to make the cut in the first place, arrives tomorrow from America, where he was on Churchill Cup duty with the England Saxons.

England were naming their Test side today, with Shontayne Hape, the Bath centre, expected to be the sole debutant in the starting combination. The appearance of a strapping, hard-tackling newcomer in the red-rose midfield will confirm the Wallaby nation in its collective view that the tourists have come here with a defensive mindset, but as Mark Cueto, one of the more experienced backs in the party, pointed out yesterday, teams do not have to throw the ball around to win a Test.

"We have some continuity as a group and I'm as confident as I've ever been that we can play good rugby against the best sides in the world," the Sale wing remarked. "But to anyone watching the game on Tuesday, it was pretty obvious that we were the dominant side up front, and if you're dominating an area of the contest, why start doing something else just to please other people? You hammer away at it, don't you? We won't be afraid to keep using our forwards, whether or not we're labelled 'boring'."

John Steele, the former Northampton outside-half and coach, will succeed Francis Baron as the Rugby Football Union's chief executive in the autumn. Steele has spent the last five years performing a similar role at UK Sport.

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