Tindall to fight ban to save his England career

Centre's Red Rose future looks over as he pays price for World Cup antics while Ashton is warned after role in 'midget madness'

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The Independent Online

Mike Tindall will appeal against the £25,000 fine and expulsion from the England Elite Players Squad, which he was handed yesterday and which would effectively end his international career.

On a day when the centre was singled out for unprecedented punishment for his off-field antics at the Rugby World Cup, Rob Andrew, who announced the sanction, was accused of "trying to justify his position".

Tindall will be represented by the Rugby Players Association, who could barely conceal their outrage. In a statement last night, the body referred to the fine as "extraordinary", adding: "Mike will be appealing this unprecedented fine as per the terms of the EPS agreement." Expect a legal wrangle to sum up the mess in New Zealand.

The 33-year-old, who has won 75 caps, captained his country and won a World Cup in his 11 years as a Red Rose stalwart, was always going to appeal and his cause was backed by several former internationals who believe the Rugby Football Union, and more pointedly Andrew, the under-fire professional rugby director who conducted the Twickenham review into the highly publicised events in a Queensland bar, have, at best pandered to public opinion.

Martin Corry, the former England captain, said: "There seems to be something else there. Fining him is one thing – but axing him from the elite player squad is unprecedented. Is Andrew trying to make a name for himself in a very uncertain time in the RFU?" Meanwhile, Austin Healey, the England wing, labelled the fine "plain wrong", claimed "Tindall has been made a scapegoat" and that Andrew, a former team-mate, was "trying to justify his position". Tindall has until early next week to lodge any appeal with Martyn Thomas, the acting RFU chief executive. Neither the player nor his club, Gloucester, commented yesterday, although as he has been named in the team to play in Toulouse tomorrow the controversy is bound to overshadow the Heineken Cup opener.

Tindall was not the only player punished. James Haskell and Chris Ashton were handed suspended fines of £5,000 and warned about their future conduct, following an alleged incident with a waitress in a hotel in Dunedin, while the Northampton hooker Dylan Hartley has been cleared of any wrongdoing. Yet they were overshadowed by the penalties dished out to the husband of the Queen's grand-daughter.

Many will claim the expulsion from the squad came two months late, while many will wonder, just like Healey, whether Tindall has been made an example of as part of some wider agenda. Martin Johnson's position as manager certainly seems weakened after he all but backed his vice-captain when the affair – which featured the newly-married Tindall caught on CCTV at a "midget-madness" promotion embracing a blonde – first surfaced. "You have got to relieve the pressure and let off steam at the right time," said Johnson at the time. "It was a good idea. I don't want to have to lock people away and not let them out."

If he hoped that would be an end of it, he was wrong. Tindall became the subject of intensive media focus following the visit to the Altitude bar which came after England's 13-9 win over Argentina. It hardly helped Tindall's reputation that he later had to issue an apology for misleading the management over his movements that night, having initially claimed he did not go on to another bar. That was presumably damning for the RFU investigation, as was the lack of an apology or any discernible remorse.

With Andrew at its head together with the legal and governance director, Karena Vleck, the inquiry found Tindall had been guilty of "unacceptable behaviour". Said Andrew: "Mike Tindall's actions reached a level of misconduct that was unacceptable in a senior England player and amounted to a very serious breach of the EPS code of conduct. While we acknowledge his previous good character, it needs to be made clear that what he did will not be tolerated."

He added: "We have considered all the evidence carefully and interviewed the players at length. These actions have not been taken lightly but we believe that in all these cases the sanctions are commensurate with the level of seriousness of what occurred."

Yesterday, Johnny Wilkinson expressed his sadness at the almost certain international demise for his long-time back-line partner, although in his recent autobiography he revealed his bemusement at Tindall's stupidity. "What I cannot understand is the naivete of people going out to the extent they did and it not crossing their minds it would find its way back to the media," Wilkinson wrote. "We've already been warned several times about what it's like ... especially in the World Cup. With a camera on pretty much every phone these days, how could it not come back?"

Players' Punishment

Mike Tindall

Fined £25,000 and removed from the England elite player squad

Chris Ashton

Suspended £5,000 fine and warned about future conduct

James Haskell

Suspended £5,000 fine and warned about future conduct

Dylan Hartley

Cleared of all charges

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