Ticket punishment piles on problems for Bath

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The Independent Online

Things go from bad to worse at the Recreation Ground, home of the Premiership's bottom team Bath. Smarting from four-try defeats at the hands of Northampton and Newcastle, they were dealt another double whammy yesterday when Steve Borthwick, their outstanding lock forward and a wildcard tip for the England captaincy, was cited for his part in an all-in brawl last weekend, and the club was stripped of a proportion of its international ticket allocation following a Rugby Football Union investigation into black market transactions.

The RFU, determined to drive unlicensed hospitality providers into the nearby Thames, took action against 15 clubs and St George's School in Harpenden after finding match tickets in the wrong hands. Of the clubs - from Amber Valley in Derbyshire to Woodford in Essex - only Bath play in the élite league.

By way of further embarrassment, it is less than six months since two of their Test contingent, Olly Barkley and Matt Stevens, found themselves in trouble with the union after the discovery of similar ticketing irregularities. The RFU stressed last night that the two incidents were unrelated.

Bath immediately issued a "statement of clarification", in which they denied any deliberate flouting of the rules. "We sold the tickets in good faith, and at face value," said a spokesman. "It appears the initial purchaser could not attend the game and sold them, again at face value, to a third party. We believe it was from this source that the tickets ended up where they did. This case is an illustration that we must all take even greater care to ensure that there is no chance of any of our tickets ending up in the wrong hands again."

Union attempts to exert greater control over the destination of Twickenham tickets, which are allocated to clubs rather than sold to the general public, have gathered pace over the last year with the licensing of three hospitality companies. Some unlicensed businesses accused the RFU of operating a cartel; others contrived to lay hands on tickets despite the restrictions. This latest incident underlines the difficulty of keeping checks on tickets for a stadium that could be sold to capacity three times over for major matches.

Borthwick, meanwhile, must attend a disciplinary hearing in Coventry next Tuesday after being identified as a possible miscreant by one of the RFU's citing officers. Phil Dowson, the Newcastle No 8, who was sent off for his role in the shenanigans, has now been suspended for a week by his club, despite their claims that he was a victim of mistaken identity.