White will miss series after ban for butting

Chris Hewett
Friday 27 December 2013 02:20
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The Bristol prop Julian White is out of England's three-match series with the cream of the southern hemisphere next month after being found guilty of butting his Test colleague, Graham Rowntree, in the opening minutes of a tempestuous Premiership match with Leicester at the Memorial Ground 11 days ago. White, whose disciplinary record leaves plenty to be desired, was suspended for 10 weeks and will also miss the first three rounds of the Heineken Cup.

White's solicitor, Owen Eastwood, expressed his client's acute disappointment at the verdict, possibly with good reason. Rowntree had contributed a written statement on behalf of the defence in which he insisted no butt had been delivered, and the Rugby Football Union tribunal, which met in Newbury and was chaired by Jeff Blackett, accepted that, whatever White did, he did under extreme provocation. But Blackett said afterwards that video footage showed Rowntree indicating that he had been butted and said, damningly: "We felt there was a certain inconsistency there."

In their judgement, the panel described the accounts of two match officials as "precise, cogent and clear". They also told the player that his "talent is tarnished by a lack of self control". The sending-off was his third in two-and-a-half years, and his second against Leicester in the space of five months.

Eastwood confirmed that an appeal would be considered, pointing to the fact that the sentence was precisely half the usual 20-week ban for illegal use of the head. "Julian wanted to clear his name but, unfortunately, that did not happen," he said. "It should be understood that the panel placed this incident at the very lowest end of the scale. I will be advising Julian and the club on any possible appeal over the next 24 hours."

The 29-year-old tight head, considered to be the most aggressive scrummager in English rugby, would certainly have been included in Clive Woodward's squad for the New Zealand Test on 9 November. Both Woodward and his chief coach, Andy Robinson, see White as the most potent back-up to Phil Vickery, the Gloucester prop who captained England in Argentina during the summer.

His absence, together with the injury problems currently being suffered by the Saracens front-row David Flatman, may well work in favour of Jason Leonard, the most decorated England player of them all. The veteran Harlequin, who happens to be playing his best rugby for some time, needs three more caps to reach a red rose century – a feat that would bring his remarkable career, threatened as long ago as 1992 by a serious neck condition, to a perfect conclusion.

Leonard is not expected to make it to next year's World Cup in Australia, but a place on the bench for the trio of autumn Tests would give him a decent shot at becoming the first forward in the history of the game to hit the hundred mark.

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