Titterrell's England hopes hit by stamping charge

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The Independent Online

Sale and Leinster, two of the more dynamic attacking sides in this season's Heineken Cup, are not above scoring points of an entirely different kind, as yesterday's disciplinary manoeuvrings demonstrated.

The Irish province, beaten 23-22 in an outstanding Pool Three match at Lansdowne Road last Friday night, cited Andy Titterrell, the highly rated Sale hooker, for allegedly stamping on the head of Eric Miller, the 1997 Lions Test forward. Sale reacted in kind a short while later by formally accusing Ben Gissing, the Leinster lock, of performing an illicit tap-dance routine on the prone expanse of Andy Sheridan.

As the two teams are due to play the return fixture at Edgeley Park on Sunday, European Rugby Cup officials were hastily arranging a tribunal hearing. The tournament rules specify that cited players are deemed ineligible until their cases are concluded, so the only way either man will feature this weekend is if they are acquitted over the next 72 hours.

Gissing, a 6ft 7in line-out specialist, may escape with a fortnight's suspension if found guilty. Titterrell, on the other hand, could find himself in seriously hot water if he fails to convince the tribunal of his innocence or come up with a persuasive plea of mitigation. The accepted norm for head-stamping is an 84-day ban, which would scupper the 23-year-old front-rower's prospects of a Six Nations role with England.

Having performed an undignified belly-flop in last season's competition ­ they finished fourth out of four in their group ­ Sale are now contenders for a place in the last eight, despite suffering a hiding in Biarritz last month. They expect a capacity audience of more than 10,500 this weekend, and are also banking on the presence of Braam van Straaten, the former Springbok goal-kicker, who is close to fitness after a dead leg.

Van Straaten played a fair bit of international rugby alongside Corne Krige, who yesterday announced his retirement from the Test scene after several weeks of contemplation following South Africa's ignominious World Cup exit. He will continue to play in his native land until the autumn, when Super 12 commitments with the Stormers and Currie Cup obligations with Western Province will reach their conclusion. He will then seek a position with one of the English Premiership clubs ­ possibly Bath, whom he almost joined three seasons ago.

Krige has the fitness record of a 40-year-old has-been ­ he underwent reconstructive surgery on both knees, tore a rib cartilage, broke his jaw and suffered numerous bouts of concussion. Yet he is only 28.

Wasps have stripped out a third of their team after Sunday's unexpected home defeat by Celtic Warriors. When they play the return match in Bridgend on Friday they will be armed with Mark van Gisbergen, John Rudd, Stuart Abbott, Will Green and the hot new open-side flanker from Ireland: Jonny O'Connor. Kenny Logan, Tom Voyce, Mark Denney, Tim Payne and Paul Volley have lost their starting places. Of those, only Voyce is injured.

* Troy Flavell has been suspended for four weeks following a Rugby Football Union disciplinary hearing into the incident in which England's Richard Hill suffered a broken nose. The Saracens flanker Hill, who captained an England XV who beat the New Zealand Barbarians 42-17 on 20 December, was the victim of a swinging right arm in the 60th minute. The ban will run from 1 to 28 March, but Flabell has 48 hours to appeal.

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