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RUGBY UNION: RFU raps Worcester chief in club row; RUGBY UNION.

Byline: Carl Markham

Worcester Rugby Club chairman Cecil Duckworth was one of several leading figures in English rugby to be reprimanded for their roles in the 'Rotherhamgate' controversy which shook the sport last year.

Duckworth, who also owns the Division One club, was censured for effectively airing dirty laundry in public rather than pursuing a complaint through official Rugby Football Union channels.

The contoversy that overshadowed the end-of-season promotion and relegation battles in the 2001/2002 season revolved around claims that Division One champions Rotherham had been paid up to pounds 750,000 to deliberately fail to meet entry criteria for the top flight. Worcester finished second in the league in that year. The RFU commissioned Anthony Arlidge QC to investigate the allegations which surfaced in December.

Rotherham, who again won the title last April, ahead of Worcester, have at last been promoted into the Premiership.

But in his report, published yesterday, Arlidge detailed the actions of Premier Rugby Ltd chairman Charles Jillings, Gloucester owner Tom Walkinshaw, Northampton owner Keith Barwell, Rotherham chairman Mike Yarlett and Duckworth.

RFU disciplinary officer Jeff Blackett chose to warn the five protagonists in the inquiry but take no further action at this stage. However, he criticised all parties for conducting their business openly. The reprimands will be noted by the RFU and kept on file for five years.

Blackett said of Duckworth: 'He no doubt believes that he has not done anything wrong and is one of the potential victims of any conspiracy.

'However, had he (and Mr Barwell) referred his suspicions to the RFU and not to the press, allegations could have been investigated expeditiously and the press briefed with facts rather than speculation. It is the public nature of these allegations (the most serious of which are unfounded) which has brought the game into disrepute.'

But the rap on the knuckles of the protagonists appears to be the end of the matter. Blackett said: 'I have considered whether I should take any disciplinary action in relation to these findings where there is sufficient evidence to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that individuals are guilty of conduct which was prejudicial to the interests of the Union or the Game.

'I have kept in mind Mr Arlidge's sage advice that 'Wrongdoing should be marked, but it is also in the long-term interests of the game that these antagonisms cease'.'

Rotherham were denied entry in to the Premiership despite trying to secure the use of Rotherham United FC's Millmoor ground.

Following yesterday's action, the club will hope to put the matter behind them as it has overshadowed their promotion to the top flight.

Blackett added that his warning letter to Walkinshaw and Jillings would 'indicate the RFU's displeasure in the way, as successive chairmen of PRL, they either encouraged or allowed discussions about improper payments to Rotherham RUFC'.

Yarlett was rebuked for 'his willingness to manipulate the facts to fit a required situation in relation to the date of signing a lease in relation to the use of Millmoor (Rotherham United FC Ground)'.

On Barwell, Blackett said: 'He appeared to have genuine concerns about the potentially improper action by other Premiership owners but he shared those concerns with the national press rather than the proper authorities in the RFU.

'He also showed a distinct lack of moral courage by refusing to assist Mr Arlidge's investigation.'

Blackett also ordered PRL to pay pounds 90,000 to help cover the costs of the investigation, with Worcester RFC required to pay pounds 10,000. The balance of the costs will be paid by the RFU.

Worcester have strengthened their squad by recruiting former New South Wales hooker Ben Daly. The 27-year-old has been signed from Glasgow, whom he joined a year ago.

Daly, who is qualified to play international rugby for Scotland, is a replacement for Chris Pearson who returned to South Africa last month.

CAPTION(S):

England's Simon Shaw, top, is monstered in the line-out by New Zealand Maori's Troy Flavel in New Plymouth yesterday
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 10, 2003
Words:669
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