The RFU's system of justice makes the People's Courts of the former Soviet Socialist Republics appear models of consistency

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It is only a year since Adrian Spencer (who is not playing today) came on as a replacement for Cambridge in the University match. An amateur rugby league player, he had turned out in a perfunctory match with a professional league club. This was neither widely known nor of great interest to most people. But one person told the tale to the Rugby Football Union.

This body normally combines the qualities of the ostrich with those of Lord Nelson. It can simultaneously turn a blind eye and bury its head in the sand, when it suits its purposes to put on the performance.

On this occasion the RFU did neither. It did not tell its informant to jump off Twickenham Bridge - the policy which it had adopted consistently over the years towards those alleging the payment of union players. Instead poor Spencer was declared a prohibited immigrant to the Union for a whole 12 months.

Presumably this punitive period of suspension came to a premature end recently, when the free movement of players between league and union was agreed. But with the RFU you can never be sure about these things. It operates a kind of DIY system of justice which makes the People's Courts of the former Soviet Socialist Republics appear models of consistency and fair dealing.

Consider the cases of John Gallagher, Nigel Heslop and Peter Williams, all former union internationals who turned to league and now wish to come back to union. To begin with, the RFU indicated that they would be out for the whole of this season. Dick Best, coach for Gallagher's new club, Harlequins, hoped the Union would settle for a 120-day gap.

On Friday, however, one of its committees decided that Gallagher (together with Heslop and Williams) could start playing immediately and throughout the season in friendly matches but could not appear in league or cup matches.

This was a quite arbitrary decision, yet another example of DIY justice. The other home unions impose no such restrictions. Jonathan Davies could play - has played - for Cardiff in a Heineken League fixture.

My feeling is, however, that Davies is keener to make his home in than to play for Wales, or for Cardiff. That is entirely his own business. Anyway it is perfectly understandable. He has done everything except, as he says, play for the Lions.

Gallagher is two years younger. While Davies became a great league player, he languished with Leeds. Indeed, he does not look like a former league player at all. He does not look like a former All Black either. He looks like a normal member of the human race. He is tallish, quite slender still, even slightly frail by modern standards, with the map of Ireland all over his face. Both his parents were Irish, though he was brought up in south London before moving to New Zealand when he was 20.

Arbitrary though the RFU's decision was, it happily enabled him to turn out for Harlequins against Rosslyn Park on Saturday. He successfully place- kicked six out of 11 and scored a try from 65 yards, though he was nearly caught by Tim Smithers, the Rosslyn Park scrum-half. He missed two high balls but otherwise caught and passed beautifully. There were times when I thought he was trying to get rid of the ball too fast.

My impression also was that Quins were treating him rather as Cardiff did Jonathan Davies. If Gallagher came into the line on the right the ball would inevitably be moved left; and vice versa. If Will Carling and David Pears had been playing, I could have understood some resentment on their part. But Quins were fielding their promising, but second-choice, midfield. I should have expected Rhodri Davies, Glenn Harrison and Chris Wilkins to give Gallagher more chances. But maybe that was simply the way the match worked out.

Best said afterwards that he expected Gallagher to play for Ireland as a centre. Interestingly enough, the current Irish full-back is another Harlequin, Jim Staples. Though there were emergency arrangements for Gallagher to play for Garryowen if he had not been able to turn out for Quins - arrangements that will presumably continue - the present situation is clearly unsatisfactory for club, country and player.

On Sunday I happened to be talking to a Lord Justice of Appeal, and outlined the Gallagher case to him. The learned judge thought that Gallagher, Harlequins or both could take successful legal action against the RFU for restraint of trade. I hope this is what they now do.

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