Racist allegation takes gloss off Gloucester win

Gloucester 29 Newcastle 25
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The Independent Online

Gloucester launched an investigation into allegations of racial abuse by one of their players during a thunderous Premiership match which saw the Cherry and Whites move into second place.

That there was a lot at stake was not in doubt, there was plenty of passion and punching from the outset. And after the second of two ugly mass brawls Gloucester's hooker, the Frenchman Olivier Azam, and Newcastle blindside flanker Epi Taione, a Tongan, were sent off.

Afterwards Rob Andrew, Newcastle's director of rugby, said he was digusted and alleged: "Olivier Azam called Epi Taione 'a black bastard' and spat in his face." Andrew also claimed that someone had been ejected from the crowd allegedly for racial abuse.

But Gloucester strongly denied this and a spokesman for the match control unit confirmed that the police had merely spoken to a member of the crowd, but that no one had been escorted out of Kingsholm.

Gloucester's managing director, Ken Nottage, said: "The club would take a very serious view on anything related to racial abuse. I am astonished that that is the case with Azam because we are a multi-cultural club. But we cannot verify whether these allegations can be substantiated." Nottage added that the club would launch an investigation immediately.

There were two big bust-ups but it was not until the second, and more serious, brawl in the 14th minute that Taione became involved, ending up with the Tongan and the Frenchman scrapping on the ground, in front of the Gloucester dug-out. Referee Roy Maybank refused to comment on the two red cards.

But Andrew said: "It is a very sad day for Gloucester rugby. Originally Epi was trying to stop Azam. But Azam called him a 'black bastard' each time and on the second occasion spat in his face. Epi was sent off for fighting, but he is not a violent player.

"The crowd were yelling at him when he was sent off. He was in tears." Andrew said he expected Gloucester to take action against Azam and said he expected the Rugby Football Union to take steps to stamp out racism.

The sordid episode detracted from a thrilling match in which there were six tries and a stupendous fightback by Newcastle after Gloucester had moved into a 15-point lead. Inspired by Pat Lam the Falcons surged back and pulled to within a point, before an out-of-sorts fly-half Henry Paul slotted over his fourth penalty.

Gloucester: D O'Leary; J Ewens, T Fanolua, R Todd, D Albanese; H Paul, D Yachvili (A Gomarsall, h-t); T Woodman (P Collazo, 54), O Azam, P Vickery (capt), A Eustace (R Fidler, 54), M Cornwell, J Forrester (C Fortey, 15), J Boer (J Paramore, 54), A Hazell.

Newcastle: D Walder; G McLure (I Tuigamala, 54), J Noon, T May, M Stephenson; J Wilkinson (capt), H Charlton; M Ward (I Peel, 49), N Makin (B Balshen, h-t), G Graham, D Weir (H Vyvyan, 49), S Grimes, E Taione, J Dunbar (P Lam, 54), R Arnold.

Referee: R Maybank (London).