Davies handed seven-week ban
Wales second-rower's suspension for tip-tackling leaves Gatland short of options in the pack for visit of Scotland
Warren Gatland knew it was bad the moment his second-row forward Bradley Davies grabbed hold of Donnacha Ryan at a ruck during last weekend's Six Nations game in Dublin, manhandled him off his feet and tipped him towards the ground, which Ryan hit head first. Yesterday, the Wales coach – not to mention Davies – discovered exactly how bad it was when a disciplinary panel imposed a seven-week ban, thereby ending the Cardiff Blues player's tournament.
Davies is welcome to appeal, but he might as well save his breath. In the present climate, all forms of dangerous tackling – head-high tackling, tip-tackling, dump-tackling, spear-tackling – are rugby's version of hanging offences, even when the victim is in possession of the ball and therefore asking for trouble. When the ball is a good 15 metres away from the scene of the crime, as it was four days ago, the perpetrator is certain to be given short shrift.
This is serious news for Wales. The World Cup locks Luke Charteris and Alun Wyn Jones are crocked – Charteris will not feature in the championship – while Ian Evans, who partnered Davies in Dublin, is among the most injury-prone players of the age. The word from west of the Severn yesterday was that Ryan Jones, outstanding in the back row against Ireland, might be moved up when Scotland visit the Millennium Stadium on Sunday.
When Davies appeared before an independent tribunal, he anticipated that they would consider the offence to be of the "top-end" variety. In fact, they added an extra fortnight's suspension by way of expressing their displeasure, but then cut the punishment back down to reflect the player's admission of guilt and previous good character. He cannot play again until 26 March, nine days after the final round of Six Nations games.
A second accused, the Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris, also appeared to answer a similar, if less serious charge. Ferris was duly let off. Like Davies, he had been shown a yellow card in the second half of the Dublin game; like Davies, he was summoned because Achille Reali, the citing officer from Italy, decided yellow should have been red. On this occasion, the panel did not agree. Ferris is free to face France on Saturday.
Wales hope to have Dan Lydiate, their senior blindside flanker, back in harness for the visit of Scotland, who have made two changes to the side that lost to England at Murrayfield, despite having enough possession and try-scoring opportunities to have won by 20 points. Dan Parks's retirement means Greig Laidlaw of Edinburgh will start at fly-half and his clubmate Geoff Cross returns at tighthead prop for Euan Murray, whose religious convictions prevent him playing on the Sabbath.
Meanwhile, the prop Martin Castrogiovanni geared up for this weekend's set-to with England in Rome by hinting at a "now or never" approach in front of a 70,000 crowd at Stadio Olimpico, the biggest audience ever to watch a Six Nations game in Italy.
"A lot of supporters think we have a chance to win," the Leicester player said. "We will have to play our most physical game and not make too many mistakes, but we are Latin people and being in front of a crowd like that will mean a lot to us."
Castrogiovanni stressed the importance of putting pressure on the England scrum, which will be of some interest to the prop Dan Cole, who also happens to play for Leicester and spends more time than he would like understudying his colleague from a cold seat on the Welford Road bench. Had Castrogiovanni accepted one of the big-money offers from France that came his way last year, Cole would not have burst into tears. Instead, the Azzurri scrummager opted to stay put.
"Why did I stay? Because I play for one of the best club teams in the world, in a place where people have shown me a lot of love," he said. "We are not footballers and we don't earn a fortune, so I would never blame a man for moving clubs for money. But I play rugby to be happy, and I'm happy where I am." Did he expect Cole to offer a little personal analysis to the England coaches? "I expect he will say I'm a fat, hairy bastard," said Castrogiovanni. There's happiness for you.
Italy have made two changes to the side that lost in Paris, recalling the centre Gonzalo Canale and the equally experienced lock Marco Bortolami.
Six Nations teams
Scotland (to face Wales in Cardiff on Sunday)
R Lamont (Glasgow Warriors), L Jones (Edinburgh), N de Luca (Edinburgh), S Lamont (Scarlets), M Evans (Castres), G Laidlaw (Edinburgh), C Cusiter (Glasgow Warriors); D Denton (Edinburgh), R Rennie (Edinburgh), A Strokosch (Gloucester), J Hamilton (Gloucester), R Gray (Glasgow Wrs), G Cross (Edinburgh), R Ford (Edinburgh; capt), A Jacobsen (Edinburgh).
Replacements S Lawson (Gloucester), E Kalman (Glasgow Wrs), A Kellock (Glasgow Wrs), J Barclay (Glasgow Wrs), M Blair (Edinburgh), D Weir (Glasgow Wrs), S Hogg (Glasgow Wrs).
Italy (to face England in Rome on Saturday)
A Masi (Aironi Rugby), G Venditti (Aironi), T Benvenuti (Benetton Treviso), G Canale (Clermont-Auvergne), L McLean (Benetton Trev), K Burton (Benetton Trev), E Gori (Benetton Trev); A Lo Cicero (Racing-Métro Paris), L Ghiraldini (Benetton Trev), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester Tigers), Q Geldenhuys (Aironi), M Bortolami (Aironi), A Zanni (Benetton Trev), R Barbieri (Benetton Trev), S Parisse (Stade Français).
Replacements T D'Apice (Aironi), L Cittadini (Benetton Trev), A Pavanello (Benetton Trev), Mauro Bergamasco (Aironi), F Semenzato (Benetton Trev), T Botes (Benetton Trev), L Morisi (BancaMonte Parma Crociati).
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