The Rugby Football Union, operating at a pace that Rory Underwood himself might have envied, last night drew a line under the racial abuse controversy that cast a shadow over the Guinness Premiership game between Northampton and Bath on Saturday.
Judge Jeff Blackett, the union's chief disciplinary officer, decided there was insufficient evidence on which to take action against Mark Robinson, the Northampton scrum-half, although the New Zealander was given a formal warning as a result of the pungent insults he aimed at Andrew Higgins, the Bath wing.
Determined not to let the issue fester, Judge Blackett demanded, and received, full accounts of the incident from all relevant parties within hours of the final whistle at Franklin's Gardens. These included statements from four Bath supporters who, believing they heard Robinson make a racial comment to Higgins, angrily informed a steward - a move that resulted in the match being stopped while Wayne Barnes, the referee, called together the two captains and told them of the complaint.
Their statements have been put aside. "This does not mean they are discounted," the judge said in his report. "They [the supporters] were clearly aware that Mark Robinson said something which could be perceived to be abusive... However, it is not inconceivable that they misheard the precise words used, particularly as they were some distance from the players and the exact words could have been diluted or distorted by the background of crowd noise."
Robinson vehemently denied making any racist comment, but admitted swearing after Higgins refused to hand him the ball following a penalty decision. In what the judge described as a "very frank statement", Robinson confessed to employing what might best be described as the full range of four-lettered vocabulary, much of which would have made Bernard Manning blush. The judge took Higgins' own version of events into consideration - the Bath player insisted the remarks he heard were "the norm between players" and not racist in content - and also felt Robinson's explanation was corroborated "to a certain extent" by the lack of any reaction from the rest of the Bath team.
"However, while some strong language can be expected during a rugby match, Mark Robinson's language was particularly excessive," the judge added. "Although it did not affect the game or the other players, it clearly incensed a small section of the crowd. High profile players must be aware of the consequences of what they say and do when playing in front of large crowds or in a televised match and must be careful to control themselves. In this case I intend to give a written warning to Mark Robinson as to his future conduct. That warning will be recorded and may be taken into account if there are any further complaints about him."
Meanwhile, Bath were heavily engaged in other activity yesterday. The West Countrymen were finalising a two-year deal with their new defence and skills coach, widely thought to be the Australian Brad Davis, who ended a long career in rugby league when his Castleford side were relegated from Super League at the weekend.Reuse content