Twickenham primed for lengthy investigation

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The Independent Online

Nightmare scenarios are not exactly a novelty as far as the great and good of Twickenham are concerned - professionalism has been giving them no end of grief for more than a decade - but events at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday could cost them their sanity as well as their sleep. The Rugby Football Union is now in receipt of written complaints from two supporters who insist they heard racial abuse being aimed at a member of the Bath team, and while the West Countrymen stated yesterday that none of their players or staff heard anything of the sort, there is no easy way out of the quagmire.

Action will have to be taken because the witnesses to the alleged incident were in the stand rather than on the field. The last row of this kind, between Gloucester and Newcastle in 2001, prompted a full inquiry that stretched into 2002, but in the end there was precious little independent evidence available to the inquirers, who duly acquitted the man accused of doing the abusing, the Gloucester hooker Olivier Azam. This latest incident is more complex and potentially more serious - hence the decision of Judge Jeff Blackett, the union's chief disciplinary officer, to demand full accounts from both clubs.

It would be fatuous to suggest that rugby union is entirely free of racial abuse between players. When England played New Zealand at Twickenham in 1993, players from the home side claimed the Nigerian-born Bath prop Victor Ubogu was a target. When Samoa played South Africa in the quarter-final of the World Cup in Johannesburg two years later, the Pacific islanders' captain, Pat Lam, came close to accusing an unidentified Springbok of saying something deeply unpleasant.

But by and large, present-day union is as free from racism as any game in the world. The cast of characters at Franklin's Gardens was a thoroughly modern mix, from the fourth official David Rose - a black referee promoted to the RFU's élite panel - to the captains who were brought together and warned. Bruce Reihana of Northampton is a Maori; Isaac Fea'unati of Bath is a Samoan. As coincidence would have it, Wayne Barnes, the referee, is a barrister.

The RFU will need all the legal expertise it can get if the supporters concerned stick to their stories. One way or another, the situation is not great.

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