By Mark Jones
DUBLIN — Munster’s preparation for this Saturday’s European Rugby Cup quarterfinal against Stade Francais in Paris hasn’t been helped by controversy involving charges of biting and racial abuse following the province’s final pool game in the competition against the French club Castres.
After Munster lost the vital match, 21-13, on Jan. 12, meaning that Munster would have to play the quarterfinal away from home against last year’s runner-up, team manager Jerry Holland decided that he would cite Castres forward Ism’lla Lassissi for biting. Ireland prop Peter Clohessy, an international capped 49 times, had clear bite marks on his arm and in the hours following the game, Holland ordered that photographs be taken of the injury.
The charges were heard last week during a five-day hearing before a three-member European Rugby Cup Disciplinary Committee in Dublin.
With Lassissi facing a lengthy ban if found guilty, Castres responded by insisting that Clohessy had made “racist and discriminatory remarks against Lassissi throughout the game.” Castres also claimed that Lassissi had mentioned the abuse during the match to his captain.
Even if the video evidence relating to the bite allegation was less than conclusive, it was curious that Castres failed to provide Lassissi, who is a native of the Ivory Coast, with legal representation at last week’s disciplinary hearing. In the end, he received a one-year suspension, while Clohessy was exonerated as his accusers withdrew their complaint after it became clear that the allegations had no foundation. Castres vowed to appeal the suspension.
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“We heard evidence from Peter Clohessy, the Munster doctor and a video of the incident,” said Terry Vaux, the Welsh lawyer who chaired the committee. “We saw photographs of Peter Clohessy’s injury. We also saw and heard evidence from Mr Lassissi. Having heard all the evidence we were unanimously satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that Mr. Lassissi had bitten Peter Clohessy.
“In his evidence Mr. Lassissi admitted that there were circumstances that his mouth may have come in contact with Mr. Clohessy, although he denied biting, or didn’t remember biting.
“One thing is important to point out: In the citation by Munster no allegation whatsoever was made of any racial or other abuse in relation to justification of what had happened.”
A clearly angry Lassissi later blasted the decision. “The hearing was a farce, and the die had been cast before,” he said. “The reason I withdrew my complaint was because I felt it was a waste of breath. I did not bite Peter Clohessy and I don’t believe in the principle of an eye for an eye. Let him alone with his conscience. I have already forgiven him.”
Meanwhile, three tries by captain David Quinlan put Shannon back on top of Division One of rugby’s All-Ireland League at the weekend. The Limerick side were comfortable 37-15 winners over Lansdowne at Thomond Park, while Garryowen kept up the pressure in second place despite losing 22-12 to relegation-threatened Galwegians.
Cork Constitution are in equal second spot with Garryowen following their 18-8 win over Clontarf, who hold on to fourth place a point ahead of UCD and Terenure.