Recovery of Shaw fails to appease irate Wasps

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Wasps expect to name Simon Shaw, perhaps the outstanding second-row forward in Europe over the last month, in their side for this weekend's Heineken Cup semi-final with Munster in Dublin, having spent the last couple of days worrying themselves silly over an injury he suffered in controversial circumstances at Leeds in the last round of Premiership matches.

Wasps expect to name Simon Shaw, perhaps the outstanding second-row forward in Europe over the last month, in their side for this weekend's Heineken Cup semi-final with Munster in Dublin, having spent the last couple of days worrying themselves silly over an injury he suffered in controversial circumstances at Leeds in the last round of Premiership matches.

The Londoners will be relieved if Shaw is indeed able to take his place in the engine-room of the scrum - his absence would be a desperate blow to their hopes of progress - but whatever the outcome, their anger is unlikely to subside in a hurry.

Shaw is suffering from problems with his spleen and did not train yesterday. He went for a scan instead, and while the results were positive, his colleagues' attitude towards the Leeds flanker Colm Rigney were anything but. "Simon was stomped in an off-the-ball incident," said Warren Gatland, the Wasps coach. "We thought originally that he was suffering from bruised ribs, but it soon became clear that we were dealing with something more dramatic.

"We are talking about the same player who was banned after our home game with Leeds at the start of the season" - Rigney was suspended for nine weeks for stamping on the head of Phil Greening, the Wasps hooker - "and he did a pretty good job on Simon. The issue is out of our hands; it is up to the independent citing officer to decide whether any action should be taken." Gatland then added darkly: "The person involved wasn't dealt with at the time, but he will be next year."

The Rugby Football Union's disciplinary brigade are still working their way through the footage of last Sunday's games, and will decide by this evening whether to lay another charge of unacceptable footwork against Rigney. Should they press ahead - their decision hinges on the quality of the video evidence, if indeed there is any - the Irishman will find himself in unusually serious trouble. One stamping conviction in a calendar season is bad enough. A second might carry a ban of six months.

Gatland, who coached the Ireland team before surfacing at Wasps, knows all there is to know about the unique atmosphere of Lansdowne Road, the national rugby stadium, where this Sunday's tie will be played. "The match is a 48,000 sell-out, and 45,000 of those people will be Munster supporters," he conceded. "But we will not be intimidated and there will be no trepidation; in fact, we'll relish the challenge. Our forwards, especially, have the experience to handle it."

While the best part of 50,000 spectators will watch the action live, the prospect of a dismal television audience in England can only be of concern to the board of European Rugby Cup Ltd, who agreed a deal with the satellite broadcasters Sky before the start of this season's Heineken Cup and Parker Pen Challenge Cup tournaments after rejecting an extension of their terrestrial agreement with the BBC. The ERC always knew they would be trading audience share for hard cash, but the viewing figures for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals earlier this month do not make pleasant reading.

Of the four ties, the Saturday evening game between Munster and Stade Français at Thomond Park in Limerick generated the most interest, peaking at 200,000 - an audience share of just two per cent. The Wasps-Gloucester tie the following day was watched by a mere 100,000, a far cry from the 2.2m who watched the BBC's broadcast of the Leicester-Munster quarter-final a year ago - a Sunday match that captured an audience share of 14 per cent. Last weekend, terrestrial coverage of the Powergen Cup final between Newcastle and Sale attracted 2.1m viewers.

Senior ERC figures have repeatedly defended their decision to follow the satellite route in England while sticking with terrestrial partners in Ireland and France, the other major television markets for European rugby. But the sport's custodians must be wondering whether an audience of 100,000 for Wasps-Gloucester, one of the prime fixtures of the season, is quite what the sport requires at this stage of its professional development. After all, Welsh-language television can deliver those kinds of numbers for a common or garden Celtic League contest.

Meanwhile, the RFU has cleared Olly Barkley, the Bath and England outside-half, of any wrong-doing after discovering part of his ticket allocation for the recent Six Nations match with Ireland on the black market. Union officials waited a month for Barkley to give his side of the story, but have now accepted his written explanation.

"Olly's tickets went to friends, and not to unofficial hospitality providers," said Paul Vaughan, the RFU's commercial director. "Therefore, no further action is being taken."

Comments