Lee Byrne, the Lions full-back, is free to play for Wales against England at Twickenham this weekend after winning his appeal against a two-week suspension imposed as a result of the "16th man" affair that besmirched the magnificent Heineken Cup tie between Ospreys and Leicester a week and a half ago.
An independent disciplinary panel last night accepted that Byrne had acted in error when he returned to the field too early following treatment on a bloodied toe and revoked the suspension with immediate effect. The player will pay a fine of €5,000 instead.
Their finding, albeit belated, was entirely in keeping with previous high-profile incidents of this kind. England, for instance, were fined during the 2003 World Cup for having 16 men on the field for a few seconds of the pool game against Samoa in Melbourne. Byrne's financial penalty amounts to loose change as far as the Welsh camp is concerned, for they see him as central to their chances of a fourth successive Six Nations victory over their greatest rivals.
To a man, they felt that the original punishment was unduly harsh, given that Byrne was following instructions from his coaching team and could hardly be expected to count the Ospreys players on the pitch before rejoining the fray, but they were far from certain that the ban would be overturned. This week, they have been training with two teams: one featuring Byrne, the other with his club-mate James Hook in the full-back position.
As a result of this decision, the head coach Warren Gatland can, if he so chooses, play the imaginative Hook in midfield, alongside Jamie Roberts – a combination capable of causing England all the grief they can handle. Gatland was scheduled to confirm his line-up today.Reuse content