December 29 down the years
Rob Andrew forced to climb down after racism claims
Rob Andrew and Epi Taione arrive for an RFU hearing after the brawl at Kingsholm © Getty Images

No end-of-year goodwill at Kingsholm where Gloucester's 29-25 win over Newcastle was tarnished by a double sending-off and accusations by Newcastle manager Rob Andrew that Gloucester's French hooker Olivier Azam racially abused Tongan flanker Epeli Taione and that people were ejected from the 11,000 crowd because of racist comments. Gloucester reacted angrily, banning Andrew from the ground, and Azam, who was cleared by an RFU panel, considered taking legal action against Andrew. The matter was eventually settled in May when Andrew issued a press statement saying "he now accepts that, for the following reasons, there was insufficient evidence to justify the remarks".

Wing Norman Biggs scored a try in the second minute of Cardiff's first victory against an overseas touring side. Cardiff won by a goal and a try to a try as the visiting Maori wound up the Welsh leg of their British tour.

A remarkable war of words broke out between Northampton and London Irish after Ben Cohen was accused of kicking and kneeing the Exiles' fullback Michael Horack in the Saints' 24-15 win. Saints director of rugby John Steele said there was no case to answer and then laid into the Irish. "'I think they should look to put their own house in order before speaking out. These complaints have come from a club that has failed to pay debts from the merger of London Irish, London Scottish and Richmond three years ago despite money being provided for them to do so. More recently they have illegally substituted three front row forwards and, when questioned on this, placed the blame at the RFU's door." No case was brought against Cohen.

The first Barbarians-Leicester fixture ended in a 9-9 draw, three tries apiece. Interestingly referee Arthur Jones (a well-known Leicester player) awarded a penalty try to the Baa-Baas' Norman Wodehouse on the grounds of obstruction.

The snootiness of the RFU towards amateur players was again in evidence when they banned Fran Cotton, Peter Wheeler and Billy Beaumont from taking part in a post-sseason tour to new Zealand with Richmond Zingari. In a era when such trips were a perk for unpaid players, Bob Weighill, the rather old-school RFU secretary, sniffily told reporters: "We made it quite clear that we did not approve as it was an invitation from an individual club." The Daily Express did not mince its words. "The absolute dictatorship, benevolent or not, exercised by the various unions tends to.treat the players as children."

After winning the first five games of the Welsh leg of their tour the New Zealand Army side were held for the first time. Newport drew 3-3 with the Kiwis at Rodney Parade thanks to a brilliant display by the home halves Alf Panting and Jim Hawkins.

Newspapers carried the news that the giant Maurice Colclough had been appointed as the new England captain after a meeting in a Leicester hotel bar with the chairman of selectors. It turned out to be a complete non story as Nigel Melville continued in the role while Colclough, who was even more troubled by injury than Melville, did not play for England that season. The newspapers who had so gleefully reported the news quietly let it slip.

The Springboks struggled in one of their toughest matches of the tour before beating the Midland Counties 3-0 through a second-half penalty goal at Welford Road.

The Welsh selectors broke new ground by announcing an initial squad of 25 players who would meet regularly for weekend training at Port Talbot and from which the teams to play in the Five Nations would be selected. Among the uncapped members of the party was the young London Welsh fullback JPR Williams.

Bayonne's Xavier Garbajosa was forced to retire due to injury. The versatile 32-year-old back, a Heineken Cup winner with Toulouse in 2003, was forced to hang up his boots after 12 years due to a series of injury problems. He won 31 caps for France and played 37 Heineken Cup games for Toulouse, helping the French club win the European title for the second time in 2003.

Five players from Cardigan RFC in Wales - aged between 17 and 23 - were killed when their car crashed as they drove home from a game against local rivals St David's. The club cancelled all its New Year fixtures as a mark of respect.


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