There is barely a rugby player in the world who does not strive to emulate the great New Zealand flanker Michael Jones in some way, but the Northampton club – not to mention the Scottish nation – would have preferred it had Euan Murray, one of the most destructive scrummagers in the game, chosen a slightly different form of impersonation. Murray, like Jones, is a devout Christian, and just as the All Black maestro did a couple of decades ago, he has declared himself unavailable for Sunday matches on religious grounds.
This decision means Murray will miss Scotland's opening Six Nations fixture with France on 7 February – a severe blow in anyone's language. Andy Robinson, the national coach, confirmed as much yesterday, but insisted the 29-year-old tight-head prop would be considered for the subsequent matches against Wales, Italy, England and Ireland.
"I spoke to Euan back in the summer and he informed me as to how his reading of the Bible had persuaded him that this was the right course to take," Robinson said. "He's a top-calibre player and obviously important to us, but we must accept that people are different.
"As far as selection is concerned I'll have to look at our match programme as it develops and make decisions accordingly, but he'll remain very much in my thoughts. He may not wish to play against France, but we have an 'A' international against Ireland on the Friday night and he might well be involved in that."
As Murray has only recently recovered from the serious ankle injury he suffered during last summer's British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa, his personal take on the "keep Sunday special" principle has not yet proved an issue for Northampton, whose two Sabbath games to date were played early in the season.
Unless the Heineken Cup fixture schedulers decide otherwise, the Saints – an appropriate nickname, under the circumstances – have only one problem match ahead of them: at Leeds on Easter Sunday. We can rest assured that their first-choice prop will not feature in that particular contest.
It remains to be seen how much high-level rugby Murray misses as a consequence of his stand. After much soul-searching, Jones, the best player on the planet at the time, declined to participate in the 1991 World Cup semi-final between New Zealand and Australia, and his absence was seen as a crucial factor in the All Blacks' defeat. Four years later, he was omitted from his country's World Cup squad because the number of Sunday matches made his selection pointless. The Aucklander has since admitted that the conflict between faith and sport caused him considerable torment.
Scotland will host the All Blacks at Murrayfield next autumn. South Africa, the reigning world champions, and Samoa will also visit Edinburgh in a programme crucial to Robinson's preparations for the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, where the Scots face difficult pool games against England and Argentina.
Dupuy admits temper tantrum provoked gouging
Julien Dupuy and David Attoub, the two Stade Français players at the centre of the gouging rumpus that followed the Heineken Cup tie with Ulster at Ravenhill last weekend, will appear before a disciplinary tribunal tomorrow to answer charges of making contact with the eyes of the Lions flanker Stephen Ferris. The Parisian club have already decided to take internal action against the pair. "We deeply regret this situation, which is detrimental to our image in the UK, and we wish to apologise to the province of Ulster," a spokesman said.
For his part, Dupuy admitted to an outbreak of stupidity. "I got riled up, like an idiot," said the former Leicester scrum-half in a radio interview. "I think my gesture came from irritation. It was a stupid act. The images aren't really in my favour but I really didn't want to put my fingers in his eyes. My hand was open. I don't think I'm a nasty person on the field and I've never experienced anything like this. I've already apologised to the player; all I can do now is wait. It's not easy to live through because you feel alone."
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