RFU to act over racial abuse complaint

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The Independent Online

The Rugby Football Union's disciplinary panel is to investigate an incident without precedent in English professional rugby after spectators at Northampton's 33-18 win over Bath on Saturday complained of racial abuse in an exchange between players from both sides.

Three Bath supporters and one from Northampton made complaints after hearing comments on the pitch. Their signed statements are thought to allege that Andy Higgins, the Bath wing, was racially abusedin the second half when he refused to return the ball after a breakdown in play.

Higgins refused to shed light on the alleged incident, saying: "There's always strong words. I never take any notice of them. It was sledging, nothing more."

Play was halted in the 57th minute and the captains were called together by the referee, Wayne Barnes. Bruce Reihana, of Northampton, and Isaac Fea'unati, of Bath, were warned of the allegations, though the referee, both his touch judges and the fourth official, David Rose, were not aware of any abuse taking place. Barnes then restarted the game with a scrum.

Brian Campsall, the RFU's referee assessor at the game, said:"It was brought to the fourth official's attention by the chief security officer at the ground that he had received at least one complaint that players from both sides had been racially abusing one another.''

Campsall's take on events wasthat the chief security officer told the fourth official to stop the game. "The captains were given 30 seconds to talk to all their players," he said, "and to tell them there were accusations and that if they were taking place, we didn't want to hear any more. I'm not aware of what might have been said. None of the match officials had heard anything.''

An RFU spokesman said: "We take such allegations very seriously and we will take a report from the match officials, and also from the chief security officer and Brian Campsall, once a top referee himself.''

Northampton's head coach, the former England fly-half Paul Grayson, said: "I wasn't aware anything out of the ordinary was going on, but it is obviously something the club would take very seriously. There was nothing between the teams when they came off at the end of the game and the players are bemused about why the game came to a halt.

"As a goal-kicker, I know there is always the odd voice that rings out, but I don't think it [racist abuse] is something that goes on in rugby union. We've got players from all over the world playing together for us."

Steve Meehan, Bath's acting head coach, said: "We couldn't find our game in the first half and we're disappointed by the result. So far as any racial abuse is concerned, I didn't hear anything and I don't think any of my players were involved. We just don't do that sort of thing."

Meehan's club completed their own investigation yesterday and issued a statement: "During the Northampton versus Bath match on Saturday, an incident was drawn to the attention of the referee that members of the public had allegedly heard a North-ampton player racially abuse a Bath player.

"Having conducted an internal investigation, Bath Rugby can confirm that no player, member of pitch-side or other staff heard this alleged racial abuse.

"We understand other outside investigations are taking place. There is no place for racism in rugby, and Bath Rugby fully supports the RFU's position in this."