Lomu appeals against 'spear tackle' ban

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The Independent Online

It is no small matter to be hit by a so-called "spear tackle", especially when the spear is approximately the size of Cleopatra's Needle. All the same, the most celebrated player of the professional age, Jonah Lomu, yesterday appealed against a two-week suspension imposed for his assault on the Wallaby international centre Nathan Grey during a Super 12 match between the New South Wales Waratahs and the Wellington Hurricanes in Sydney at the weekend. The hearing has been scheduled for today.

Lomu, the outsized All Black wing, made mincemeat of Grey during the early stages of the game and was duly given a yellow card by the South African Test referee Andre Watson. On his return from the sin-bin Lomu helped the Hurricanes to a decisive 27-3 advantage before committing a deliberate knock-on shortly before half-time and being sent off for good.

A three-man judiciary panel reached the conclusion that Watson had been too lenient in respect of the original misdemeanour. They slapped a fortnight's ban on Lomu, thereby ruling him out of the Hurricanes' remaining games against the Cape Town-based Western Stormers and the Pretoria-based Northern Bulls and, in the process, seriously undermining Wellington's chances of reaching the Super 12 play-offs as top-four finishers.

The big bloke from Auckland might have been suspended for six weeks, but the panel took into account the "remorse and regret" he conveyed during his appearance before the bench. However, Wellington are now in the throes of a serious personnel crisis: Tana Umaga, the "new Lomu", is on paternity leave, as is Gordon Slater, the international prop.

Graham Mourie, the great All Black captain who now coaches the Hurricanes, is nothing if not enlightened, but badly needs Lomu to beat the rap if his liberal streak with his other players is not to cost him dear.

There will be more judicial activity in Dublin today when various members of the Welsh and Scottish unions appear before an International Rugby Board disciplinary tribunal to explain, or maybe even accept responsibility for, the eligibility scandal that disfigured the inaugural Six Nations' Championship. Four Welsh players - Shane Howarth and Brett Sinkinson among the first-choice Test players, Nick Walne andTyrone Maullin from the fringe contingent - are at the centre of the scandal surrounding uncertain ancestral bloodlines, as are the Scottish prop Dave Hilton and the centre Jon Stuart.

The hearing will be chaired by a South African high court judge, Jannie Lubbe. The likelihood is that the players will be banned from representative rugby until they qualify through residency, and fines may well be imposed on both unions. It is, however, extremely doubtful whether the IRB will find the answers to the real questions: how much did the Welsh and Scottish management know about the false eligibility claims, and when did they know it?

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