Fighting fans 'only human' say Toulouse
Toulouse, the grandest rugby club in Europe and a name synonymous with the finest values of the union game for many a long decade, last night mounted a strong defence of their Irish forward Trevor Brennan, who landed himself in deep trouble at the weekend by throwing punches at an Ulster supporter during a Heineken Cup pool match at Stade Ernest Wallon.
Tournament organisers have ordered their disciplinary officer, Roger O'Connor, to carry out a full investigation after complaints from the Ulster club and, despite the best efforts of the Frenchmen, there must be a chance that Brennan has played his last professional game.
The 33-year-old, who won 13 caps between 1999 and 2001, was preparing to take the field as a replacement when the fracas, euphemistically described by Ulster as an "off-the-field incident", took place unprecedentedly, in the eighth row of the stand. Brennan, targeted for some choice comments by a group of Ulster followers, climbed over the wall separating the crowd from the field and confronted one of the alleged barrackers, who ended up with a bruised and bloodied face.
While the Toulouse management insisted they knew nothing of the affair until after the game Brennan joined play as planned, only to be sent to the sin bin after a dust-up with the Ulster lock Justin Harrison they argued that their player acted under considerable duress. "The supporters were clearly overexcited and began chanting, 'Brennan, your mother is a whore'," the club said. "Brennan approached this group and was showered with beer. The main gathering of Ulster supporters, who displayed exemplary sportsmanship, intervened between the group and Brennan, advising the player not to pay any attention. Brennan resumed his warm-up routine, but one member of the group began provoking him again. That was the point at which Brennan had his altercation.
"This is the first incident of this kind in our experience. Trevor is a generous player who has always respected his opponents and their supporters. It required sustained and repeated provocation to make him react in an unacceptable, but understandably human way. It is words and attitudes that cause the deepest wounds and we ask everyone to be aware of this, so that this remains an isolated incident in a sport that has always placed an emphasis on the values of friendship and camaraderie.
"Such supporters do not have a place in the sporting world, let alone in a rugby stadium. It falls to everyone to take their responsibilities seriously and we ask the organisers of the competition to instigate an inquiry into the behaviour of certain Ulster supporters," the club added.
Another thirtysomething international forward had more to celebrate yesterday. Colin Charvis, the former Wales captain, was drafted back into the squad for the forthcoming Six Nations Championship no mean feat for a 34-year-old, and thoroughly deserved on the basis of recent performances for Newport-Gwent Dragons, who have recovered from a rough spell of form to reach the quarter-finals of the European Challenge Cup.
Even bigger news was the declaration of sweetness and light between the national team and the four professional regions, which senior figures in the game west of the Severn Bridge believe will underpin a meaningful assault on this year's World Cup in France. Indeed, Gareth Jenkins, the head coach of the Red Dragonhood, is going so far as to plan for ultimate victory a far cry from predecessors who felt more inclined to plan their excuses.
"We've agreed to work with and for each other," Jenkins enthused. " This has not been a part of our history in Wales, but I feel it can be a part of our future."
Roger Lewis, the group chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union, was every bit as exuberant. "We're working together on ways to maximise the potential of the game here, to use the critical mass of Welsh rugby for the benefit of us all, not just in the coming months but through to the 2011 and 2015 World Cups," he said.
"This coming together, this declaration of a shared sense of purpose, marks the start of a special journey."
The return of Charvis was widely expected. The promotion of Scott Morgan, the versatile Cardiff Blues forward, was more of a surprise, but in the absence of three injured back-five operators Ian Evans, Jonathan Thomas and Dafydd Jones he is worth a punt as the only uncapped player in the 33-man party.
If Wales have given up hope of Shane Williams, the brilliant Ospreys wing, recovering from his latest injury problems in time to face Ireland in Cardiff on Sunday week, the Irish themselves have far more to concern them.
Shane Horgan, their most powerful back, is out for at least six weeks after undergoing knee surgery; Robert Kearney, another Leinster back, has hamstring trouble; and John Kelly, the Munster wing, is nursing damaged ribs. All are out of the Six Nations squad. What is more, 15 others were unable to train yesterday something of an irony, given the ruthless lengths the Irish go to nurse their men through a season.
Wales Six Nations squad
Backs: K Morgan (Newport-Gwent Dragons), G Henson (Ospreys), C Czekaj (Cardiff Blues), S Williams (Ospreys), G Thomas (Toulouse), J Robinson (Cardiff Blues), T Shanklin (Cardiff Blues), Gavin Evans (Llanelli Scarlets), J Hook (Ospreys), H Luscombe (Harlequins), S Jones, (capt, Llanelli Scarlets), C Sweeney (Newport-Gwent Dragons), D Peel (Llanelli Scarlets), G Cooper (Newport-Gwent Dragons), M Phillips (Cardiff Blues).
Forwards: G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), D Jones (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys), C Horsman (Worcester), R Thomas (Cardiff Blues), M Davies (Gloucester), M Rees (Scarlets), I Gough (Dragons), B Cockbain (Ospreys), R Sidoli (Blues), S Morgan (Cardiff Blues), A Wyn Jones (Ospreys), R Jones (Ospreys), A Popham (Scarlets), M Williams (Cardiff Blues), G Thomas (Scarlets), C Charvis (Dragons), G Delve (Bath).