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Billy Vunipola escapes with slap on the wrist from RFU over taser arrest
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Billy Vunipola escapes with slap on the wrist from RFU over taser arrest

Billy Vunipola is free to finish the season with Saracens after escaping a suspension from the Rugby Football Union, which has instead issued the No 8 with a formal warning following his arrest in Mallorca.

The RFU has warned Vunipola according to its rule that governs misconduct but, having considered the forward’s contrition and “the circumstances around the incident”, the union has not seen fit to take further disciplinary action. In effect, the RFU has given Vunipola – who is set to move to France in the summer – a slap on the wrist.

It is the second time Vunipola has been formally warned by the RFU, having received the same sanction in April 2019 for showing his support for Israel Folau, who had made homophobic remarks on social media. Because warnings stay on players’ records for five years only, however, that particular incident was not taken into consideration.

The RFU has cited a different regulation to when Danny Cipriani was arrested in Jersey when playing for Gloucester in 2018. At the time Cipriani was found to have brought the game into disrepute by the union after he had pleaded guilty to common assault and resisting arrest but the RFU did not impose any further sanctions. Gloucester had chosen to fine Cipriani £2,000 whereas Saracens opted only to issue Vunipola with a warning and to condemn his behaviour.

“The RFU has reviewed the information Saracens provided following its investigation into the incident involving Billy Vunipola in Mallorca on 27 April, which resulted in the club issuing him with a formal warning,” read an RFU statement. “We have also considered the apologies Billy has provided, his clear contrition and the circumstances around the incident and have concluded the most appropriate course of action is to issue a formal warning under RFU Regulation 19.6.13. This warning will sit on his record for five years and may be relied upon in future disciplinary proceedings.

“It has been made clear to Billy that as a senior and respected player, such actions risk bringing the game as a whole into disrepute. In particular, such actions clearly go against the core values of rugby which collectively the sport works hard to promote.”

Billy Vunipola playing for SaracensView image in fullscreen

Vunipola was twice stunned with a taser and arrested in Palma during a recent squad trip following a victory over Bath, then fined €240 (£205) by an express trial for resisting the law. The 31-year-old issued a public apology and has since explained how he has a problem “knowing when to stop” drinking with his Saracens director of rugby, Mark McCall, stressing the importance of “support and help” rather than punishing indiscretions.

The upshot is that Vunipola is free to play for Saracens against Bristol on Saturday as well as Sale the following weekend and the Premiership playoffs, assuming the defending champions qualify. He is due to leave Saracens at the end of the season and is set to join Montpellier.

Meanwhile, Steve Borthwick has an escalating second-row problem for England’s summer tour of Japan and New Zealand after Ollie Chessum was ruled out following shoulder surgery. The 23-year-old has developed into a key member of Borthwick’s forward pack but England must now lock horns with Eddie Jones’s Japan and the All Blacks without him.

His absence is all the more acute because Maro Itoje could potentially reach the maximum game limit for the season before the tour, raising questions over his availability. Itoje and George Martin started the last two Six Nations matches in the second row with Chessum shifting the blindside flanker. Chessum’s absence opens the door for Ethan Roots, who made his debut during the Six Nations, as well as Chandler Cunningham-South – Harlequins’ in-form backrower who grew up in New Zealand.

“Leicester Tigers lock Ollie Chessum will miss the remainder of the 2023-24 campaign after having successful surgery to repair an ongoing injury,” read a Leicester statement. “The 23-year-old will begin his rehabilitation shortly and is expected to be available for round one of the 2024-25 campaign.”

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Rule changes to encourage open play

Teams will no longer be able opt for a scrum when awarded a free-kick as one of three law changes designed to make the game more entertaining.

The new rules take effect from 1 July so will be in force for England’s tour of New Zealand, which features Tests on 6 July and a week later. It is hoped that removing the scrum as an option will encourage more open play, with free-kicks having to be tapped or kicked.

A second change relating to when players are put onside during kicks in open play dictates that any offside players must now make an attempt to retreat, creating space for the opposition to play. Under the existing laws it is possible for a player to be put onside when an opposition player catches the ball and runs five metres or passes the ball, leading to bouts of “kick tennis”.

The third change is the banning of the “crocodile roll” – the potentially dangerous act of rolling a player who is on their feet out of the tackle area – and the offence will now be punished by a penalty.

World Rugby has also announced the trial of a revised red card process that will be observed in competition such as WXV and the Pacific Nations Cup. It will lead to automatic bans applied for red cards involving foul play, while a player shown a red card can be replaced by another player from the bench after 20 minutes, restoring a side to 15 players.

“I believe that the law amendments and suite of closed trials will add to the entertainment factor,” World Rugby’s chairman, Bill Beaumont, said. “As with all trials, we will comprehensively review their effectiveness and take feedback from across the game.” PA Media

Source: theguardian.com