The RFU's System of Justice Makes the People's Courts of the Former Soviet Socialist Republics Appear Models of Consistency

Article excerpt

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. …