Leicester and Bristol players avoid punishment over mass weekend brawl

The Rugby Football Union is continuing to investigate the contentious finale to Leicester’s game against Bristol last Saturday but will not be punishing any players following ill-tempered scenes at the final whistle.

While no specific on-field incidents were deemed worthy of a red card, it is understood the RFU is still gathering information before deciding whether to pursue any misconduct charges against coaches or backroom staff.

During a heated touchline disagreement at Welford Road, Leicester’s head coach, Steve Borthwick, could be heard alleging his opposite number, Pat Lam, was lying in a prolonged debate over whether the substituted Bristol prop, John Afoa, could return to the fray in the closing minutes. Afoa ultimately played a key role in the decisive scrum which allowed Bristol to escape with a 26-23 win and Borthwick believes the live TV footage mostly speaks for itself.

“It’s pretty clear what was being said and done by people on the sideline,” said Borthwick, whose side face Wasps in their final game of the league season on Saturday. “I’m sure whoever’s investigating will see it as well. I don’t think I really need to comment on it … I’ll just crack on with trying to coach well and trying to do things in what I deem to be the right way.”

Borthwick was otherwise disinclined to expand on the subject but did concede that Bristol were a “tremendously well-coached team” who had taught some of his players a valuable lesson in how to close out a game. “Ultimately at that last scrum we didn’t scrummage effectively enough,” Borthwick said. “It’s another learning experience for us … but I think our supporters will have been proud of the way their team fought against a top-of-the-table team.”

Gloucester’s faint chances of European rugby next year, meanwhile, have been abruptly extinguished after Covid issues forced the cancellation of their final fixture against Worcester this Saturday. Their penultimate game against Bath was called off following a number of positive Covid-19 tests last week and an additional positive result has now led to several more players going into isolation. Gloucester consequently notified Premiership Rugby that they would be unable to field a matchday 23.

England’s Wayne Barnes will referee two of the British & Irish Lions tour fixtures in South Africa this summer. The experienced Barnes will take charge of the Lions’ games against the Bulls and the Stormers next month as part of a non-neutral panel who will form their own officials’ bubble and control the provincial games.

Australia’s Nic Berry will referee the first Test against the Springboks, with New Zealand’s Ben O’Keeffe given the second and France’s Mathieu Raynal the third and final Test on 7 August.

The Northampton lock David Ribbans will miss out on a potential first cap for England this summer after being banned for three weeks for a high tackle on Exeter’s Luke Cowan-Dickie. The 25-year-old was hoping to be included in Eddie Jones’s squad for their summer Tests against USA and Canada but a disciplinary panel has ruled he cannot play again until the start of the new Premiership season in mid-September.