Bath duo to appeal RFU suspension

Lipman and Crockett launch challenge to bans for missing drug tests
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The Bath players Michael Lipman and Alex Crockett have decided to appeal against the nine-month suspension imposed on them for missing drug tests. A third Bath player, Andrew Higgins, decided not to appeal, but yesterday announced his retirement from the game.

Earlier this month a Rugby Football Union disciplinary panel found the trio had failed on two occasions to submit to drug tests when Bath conducted an internal inquiry into allegations of misconduct at an unofficial end-of-season celebration in London.

Crucially the RFU's disciplinary panel dropped charges of drug use at the outset of the four-day hearing.

The 27-year-old Higgins insisted that he had only been concerned with clearing his name regarding drug use, but Lipman and Crockett, both former co-captains of the West Country club, yesterday lodged an appeal not only against the RFU disciplinary panel's decision, but also against the sentence.

Lipman, Crockett and Higgins were among six Bath players who had been linked with allegations of drug use during the celebrations in London on 10 May. All three terminated their contracts with the club at the beginning of June, shortly before they were due to attend the club's internal hearing.

That prompted the RFU to launch an investigation, which resulted in all three being cleared of drug use, but suspended for missing the tests.

Among the half-dozen players under a cloud was Justin Harrison, the former Wallaby lock, who resigned from the club after also failing to take a drugs test, and later he received an eight-month suspension after admitting taking cocaine. Two other players took drug tests and were cleared.

Richard Mallett, Lipman and Crockett's solicitor, said yesterday: "Former Bath players Michael Lipman and Alex Crockett have today appealed against the decision of the disciplinary panel on 3 August, 2009.

"The RFU disciplinary panel found Mr Michael Lipman and Mr Alex Crockett guilty of failing and/or refusing to submit to internal drugs tests without reasonable cause on two occasions on 13 May and 14 May and that this constituted conduct which was prejudicial to the interests of the game, contrary to RFU rule 5.12.

"Although on the first day of the four-day hearing Mr Lipman and Mr Crockett were completely exonerated of any drug-taking the players were suspended from playing rugby for nine months from 2 June to 28 February 2010. The appeal has been lodged with the RFU against both the finding of fact and the sanction imposed."

While Lipman and Crockett have challenged the verdict, Higgins has decided to quit the game altogether.

He said: "Despite the fact that on the first day of the four-day hearing myself, Michael and Alex were all completely exonerated of any drug taking, the RFU disciplinary panel on 3 August went on to find us guilty of failing and/or refusing to submit to internal drugs tests without reasonable cause on two occasions.

"I was subsequently suspended from playing rugby until 28 February, 2010. I am deeply frustrated and totally devastated by that decision ... [which] has caused me to become profoundly disillusioned with the whole process and has led me to consider whether I wish to continue to be involved with ... rugby at any level. As a result I have decided to take advantage of other options outside of professional rugby that are available to me. My main focus was always to clear my name in relation to any drug taking. This has now been done and I will not be taking the matter any further."

At the disciplinary hearing Lipman, Crockett and Higgins argued they had "good grounds" for not taking the tests. But the RFU's panel, chaired by Judge Jeff Blackett, rejected the arguments, questioning why the players would have avoided taking tests if they had nothing to fear.

Bath have now lost five players this year through drug-related issues, with prop Matt Stevens currently banned for two years for taking cocaine.