Ian McGeechan and the rest of the British and Irish Lions hierarchy always feared the worst, and their fears were realised last night. Alan Quinlan, the Munster flanker whose selection for the forthcoming three-Test trip to South Africa came as something of a surprise – not least to Tom Croft of England and Ryan Jones of Wales – was banned for three months after being found guilty of a gouging offence. The 34-year-old from Tipperary may yet appeal, but as things stand, he is unavailable until the second week of September and therefore off the tour.
Quinlan appeared before a disciplinary tribunal in Dublin to answer a charge arising from the Heineken Cup semi-final with Leinster at Croke Park earlier this month. John Byett, the citing commissioner at the match, reported him for "making contact with the eye or eye area" of the Leinster lock and captain, Leo Cullen – an incident that was picked up clearly by the television cameras, which also captured Cullen's angry reaction.
While the tribunal, chaired by Roger Morris of Wales, found Quinlan's action to be at the low end of the scale, they decided they had no option but to slap a heavy punishment on him. Any attack on an opponent's eyes, however half-hearted, is considered beyond the pale: indeed, it stands alongside biting and head-kicking as one of rugby's deadly sins.
McGeechan, the head coach of the Lions, has now lost three of his original party. Tomas O'Leary, the Munster scrum-half who broke an ankle within 72 hours of hearing of his selection, has been replaced by the Scotland captain Mike Blair, but there has been no decision in respect of the Cardiff Blues centre Tom Shanklin, who suffered a bad shoulder injury in the Magners League game against Newport-Gwent Dragons at the Arms Park last week. Croft, in exceptional form for Leicester in recent weeks, is the most obvious fill-in for the errant Quinlan.
There was more activity in Dublin yesterday as the Rugby Football Union tabled their bid to stage the 2015 World Cup in England. They did not hesitate to throw plenty of zeroes into the equation, either, telling members of the International Board that some 3m spectators would attend matches at a dozen venues, most of them football stadiums, generating more than £2bn of business.
Despite the board's insistence on sticking to the September-October window, which coincides with the football season, the union identified Old Trafford, Anfield, the Emirates Stadium, St James' Park and Elland Road as match venues, along with the St Mary's Stadium in Southampton and the Ricoh Arena in Coventry. Most of these grounds would be virgin territory for rugby union.
Twickenham, Wembley, the Millennium Stadium and two club rugby grounds – Kingsholm in Gloucester, Welford Road in Leicester – are also on the RFU's slate. The quarter-finals would be split between London and Cardiff, with both semi-finals and the final being staged at Twickenham. Arsenal's 60,432-capacity home at the Emirates would be used for the third-place play-off match, probably the least popular fixture in international rugby from the perspective of players and coaches.
"These are turbulent and difficult times," said Francis Baron, the union's chief executive, "but we believe the bid we have put together represents both low risk and high potential return. The combined capacity of our chosen stadia is in the region of 700,000 seats. Our target is to sell 3m, which would be a 30 per cent increase on the last competition in France in 2007."
All four competing unions – Italy, Japan and South Africa are the other bidders – laid their facts, figures and ideas before the board members yesterday, and must now await the decision in July. The Japanese, blessed with outstanding facilities as a result of their successful hosting of the football World Cup in 2002, were within a hair's breadth of landing the 2011 tournament, only to be mugged at the last minute by New Zealand. South Africa, busily preparing for the football's global jamboree next year, also believe they stack up against England, the clear favourites, on the stadium front. The Italians have also gone down the football route. Major venues in Rome, Milan and Naples are central to their bid.Reuse content