Nicol leads call to pull down the pyramids

Human gymnastics which robbed Glasgow of victory could be outlawed
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The Independent Online

Even as Glasgow travel south to Northampton today in search of a first Heineken Cup win on English soil, the ramifications over the Scots' opening Pool Five match against Montferrand nine days ago rumble on.

Both sides involved in the bizarre finish to the 19-19 draw at Hughenden are anticipating a re-examination of the Laws after a possible winning kick was prevented from going through the posts by the French side's so-called "human pyramid".

When Montferrand's Troy Jaques was hoisted by his team-mates above the three-metre high crossbar to block James McLaren's goal-bound penalty, it was not the first time this entirely legal tactic had been brought off. John Eales, the great Australian lock, and the former Saracens No 8, Tony Diprose, are among those to do it in recent seasons. But the sheer drama of the incident, in injury time at the end of a desperately close match, has prompted calls for a rethink.

The penalty itself was awarded controversially. Montferrand, after trailing 19-9, had just tied the scores with a try. Their international flanker Olivier Magne chose to celebrate by throwing the ball into the face of the home prop, Cameron Blades: penalty to Glasgow, said the Irish Test referee Alan Lewis, before indicating to both teams that it would be the last kick of the match.

Glasgow's regular goal-kicker, Tommy Hayes, was one of two of their men in the sin-bin and McLaren, too, was off the field, being treated for a blood injury, but sufficiently fit to trot back on and send the kick from the halfway line sailing towards its target. Cue the Montferrand forwards who, in a technique similar to that required at a line-out or restart, jacked up Jaques. Although the ball fell forward from Jaques' grasp, Lewis judged that a fair attempt at a catch had been made, so ruling out a further penalty to Glasgow for a deliberate knock forward. Game over, honours even.

Even after a few days' calm reflection, Glasgow's skipper Andy Nicol believes the tactic should be outlawed. "In the same circumstances, I'd get my players to do it too," he said. "But I've been of the opinion for a while that there should be no lifting allowed at a penalty kick. The crossbar is at a specified height, and that's the whole point of it, yet you can stick a player up two feet above it and change everything. James put in a fantastic kick, and it deserved to win the game."

Richie Dixon, Glasgow's coach, called on the International Board to ban the practice and, although Mont- ferrand were the beneficiaries, there was sympathy for that view in France this week. "I think they'll change the rules after this," said Steve Nance, Montferrand's Australian coach. "There is a section in the Laws which deals with good sportsmanship [Law 10.4(k) on foul play] and that may be what they invoke here. I'm 50-50 on it. While it's legal, we'll keep doing it.

"We stopped a kick against Castres a couple of weeks before Glasgow. It's not that difficult. Unlike a line-out, you can see the ball coming from a long way off, and you don't need to make a lot of lateral movement."

Tell that to Wasps' Richard Birkett, who, instead of blocking a crucial penalty in the Heineken Cup against Stade Français last season, succeeded only in knocking over the bar a kick that had looked destined not to make it. Undaunted, Wasps have persevered. "We've been fishing a couple of times but haven't caught anything yet," said Wasps' director of rugby, Nigel Melville. Perhaps that's why they've signed Ian Jones.

In the meantime, Nicol's men head to Franklin's Gardens minus a valuable Heineken Cup point, but boosted by last week's crowd of almost 6,000, a Scottish record for the competition. The re-launched "pro team" have a new training base in Motherwell, a settled venue for home matches at Hughenden and are top of the Welsh-Scottish League. "All the old excuses are non-existent now," said Nicol. "The supporters really get behind us. They are building a comfort with Hughenden that only comes from familiarity."

Nicol lifted the Heineken Cup as the captain of Bath in 1998, but is acutely aware that a Scottish side has yet to make it to the quarter-finals. Two Australian recruits – Blades and Nathan Ross – have added steel to the front five, and the newly-capped Andy Henderson is making a name for himself on the wing.

"The next challenge is for us to come to England and win," said Nicol. "We've tried and failed before, but then again we've had to play Leicester three times. Northampton have got a strong Scottish contingent so it would be all the sweeter to put one over on them."