Lassissi's biting ban quashed on appeal

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The Independent Online

Ismaella Lassissi, the Castres flanker banned for a year after being found guilty of biting the Munster prop Peter Clohessy on the arm during a Heineken Cup tie a fortnight ago, has been cleared on appeal and will face Montferrand in today's quarter-final tie at Stade Pierre-Antoine. This latest volte-face will inevitably intensify the pressure on rugby's disciplinarians to overhaul a system discredited by a number of similar incidents.

Lassissi, a 32-year-old Ivory Coast international who played in the 1995 World Cup, was cited by the Munster management and suspended by a tribunal convened by European Rugby Cup Ltd, the Heineken Cup administrators. Castres reacted to the citing by accusing Clohessy of subjecting Lassissi to "racial and discriminatory remarks", but withdrew the allegation during the initial hearing.

The appeal, chaired by the Rugby Football Union's disciplinary officer, Robert Horner, was heard in Dublin on Thursday night, and the findings were announced yesterday. Had the ban been ratified, Lassissi might have found himself out of a job. "This is very good news for the club, and even better news for Lassissi, who has been cleared of accusations that were without foundation," said Jacques Cauquil, the Castres manager. "We were all extremely confident of this outcome."

Castres put fresh medical evidence before the tribunal – a French pathologist addressed the three-man panel, which featured a second RFU man, Bob Taylor, and the Welshman John Owen – and Lassissi was legally represented. As the accused had not been disciplined by the match referee, Tony Spreadbury, his availability for the quarter-final was confirmed at the end of the hearing.

In October, the RFU itself was forced into a similar change of mind when Pete Anglesea, the Sale loose forward, successfully appealed against a 12-month ban imposed for gouging a Newcastle opponent, Jon Dunbar, during a Premiership match. Other high-profile cases have involved the Springbok prop Cobus Visagie, who won his fight against a long suspension for an alleged doping offence, and Richard Nones, the Colomiers forward, who secured the right to continue playing domestic rugby despite the two-year ban he received from ERC for gouging a Pontypridd player in a Heineken Cup match in 1999.

Perhaps the most delicate disciplinary issue of all has still to be addressed: Newcastle's claim that Olivier Azam, the Gloucester hooker, racially abused Epi Taione during a game last month. An inquiry into the case was announced more than a fortnight ago, but the union has yet to establish who will lead the investigation, and what form it will take.

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