Spencer faces RFU discipline

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The Independent Online

There have been so many spearings in professional rugby of late, the British game has started to look like the Trojan War. Carlos Spencer, the former All Black outside-half and acknowledged magician of the union code, was cited yesterday for an alleged dangerous tackle on the Wales scrum-half Gareth Cooper during Northampton's defeat at Newport-Gwent Dragons last weekend. If he is found guilty of the offence at a Rugby Football Union disciplinary hearing on Monday night, he can expect a three-week break.

This will not amuse Northampton one little bit. The Midlanders are almost as short of personnel as they are of form, thanks to a series of injuries to high-profile players - Bruce Reihana, Jon Clarke and Steve Thompson, to name but three. With a Heineken Cup visit to last year's runners-up, Biarritz, scheduled for Sunday week, followed by an equally important home match against Borders in the same competition, this is hardly an ideal time for people to start getting themselves banned.

Spencer was sent to the sin-bin after his contretemps with Cooper, who appeared to be dumped head-first on to the turf. Unfortunately for the New Zealander, the independent citing officer Alan Mansell decided the incident was worthy of further consideration - a predictable response, given the RFU's hard-line stance on so-called "spear tackles" this season. Already, the Harlequins centre Stuart Abbott and the London Irish scrum-half Paul Hodgson have been handed three-week suspensions for such offences.

Northampton say they have carried out a full internal investigation into the Spencer business. Budge Pountney, the director of rugby at Franklin's Gardens, said the club would represent their man at Monday's hearing in Bristol and mount "as strong a case as we can". If it is not strong enough, Northampton's chances of a positive European campaign may be undermined before it starts.

Worcester were rather hoping to mount a strong Guinness Premiership campaign, but four defeats in as many outings have left them down among the early-season dregs. Tonight, they have a vital home meeting with Gloucester - a neighbourly fixture that more or less amounts to a family squabble - and if they go under again to one of the most exciting teams in the competition, the atmosphere at Sixways will be one of desperation.

Shane Drahm, the first-choice outside-half and principal goal-kicker, is back on the midfield beat after tweaking a hamstring at Bath last month, but two of Worcester's most effective players, the winger Marcel Garvey and the lock Craig Gilles, are missing through illness and injury respectively. Gloucester, meanwhile, reintroduce Iain Balshaw at full-back after an ankle problem and include two other recently injured internationals, the England centre Mike Tindall and the Italy prop, Carlos Nieto, on the bench.

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