News in Brief
Cracknell and Collins handed bans
Trouble flared Worcester's crucial Guinness Premiership defeat at the hands of Leeds Carnegie
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- Worcester pair Chris Cracknell and James Collins have been banned and fined after being found guilty of conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game.
Cracknell received a four-week suspension, ruling him out of England Sevens' plans for the next IRB World Series tournament at Twickenham, and Collins a two-week ban. The two players had become embroiled in a fracas involving their fathers after Worcester's defeat to Leeds Carnegie confirmed their relegation from the Guinness Premiership. The Rugby Football Union's disciplinary chief Judge Jeff Blackett found the two players had acted under extreme provocation - and he reserved criticism for the players' parents.
"Members of the public who attend rugby matches are entitled to expect a safe environment and in normal circumstances any player who abuses members of the public either physically or verbally must expect a very long suspension from the game," he said. "However, in this unique case both players acted instinctively because they thought members of their family were being physically attacked, when in fact they were involved in an altercation with each other.
"In the circumstances we accepted that they reacted to extreme provocation and that the damage done to the image of the game was minimal. Indeed it is their parents who deserve the greater censure for their inappropriate behaviour."
- Newcastle Falcons have confirmed that it will not be renewing the contract of forwards coach Stuart Grimes, which expires this month. The former Scotland and Falcons star has been on the Kingston Park coaching staff for the past two years, assuming the role of forwards coach this season as the club recorded a ninth place finish in the Guinness Premiership.
Newly-appointed head coach Alan Tait said: "I'd like to thank Stuart for all of his work over the past two years on the coaching side, and to wish him all the best for the future. It was by no means an easy decision not to renew his contract because Stuart has been a great friend to me, and has made a vital contribution to our line out and set piece during his time here."
- England wing David Strettle heads a list of nine senior players who will leave Harlequins at the end of this season. Strettle's move to Quins' Guinness Premiership rivals Saracens had already been announced, while long-serving hooker Tani Fuga is also departing the Twickenham Stoop.
Other confirmed departures include centre Gonzalo Tiesi, scrum-half Steve So'oialo, Fijian back Waisea Luveniyali and prop Aston Croall. Quins finished eighth in the Premiership this term, winning nine of their 22 league games.
- New Zealander Joe Maddock will be among 11 players leaving Guinness Premiership semi-finalists Bath at the end of this season. The prolific try-scoring wing made his final home appearance in last Saturday's 39-3 victory over Leeds Carnegie that secured a play-off trip to Leicester this weekend.
Maddock looks likely to continue his playing career in Italy, while the likes of Australian flanker Julian Salvi will move back Down Under and Bath's Fijian fly-half Nicky Little has signed for their west country rivals Bristol. Other out-of-contract players departing the Recreation Ground include back-row forward Daniel Browne, wing Michael Stephenson, centre/fly-half Ryan Davis and Leicester-bound hooker Rob Hawkins. Former Tigers scrum-half Scott Bemand, meanwhile, is to retire because of injury.
- Leeds Carnegie have announced their first major signing of the summer with the capture of Bath winger Michael Stephenson on a two year contract. The 29-year-old previously played at Newcastle Falcons and has three caps for England gained in 2001. He has made 93 appearances for Bath since moving to the Recreation Ground in 2005 and has scored 23 tries in total.
- Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder says scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i has done "nothing overly serious" despite being stood down for their must-win Super 14 match against the Brumbies on Friday night.
The in-form Fotuali'i, who played his way into All Blacks contention, was dropped for breaching recovery protocol dictated by the team after their 35-40 loss to the Bulls in Pretoria last weekend. Blackadder wouldn't say what Fotuali'i had done wrong in Pretoria but said he had accepted his punishment for a match the Crusaders need to win to make the semif-inals.
"There's no price that can be paid bigger than standing down for one week. While he's really disappointed he's made significant changes and he's going to do everything he can to support the team," Blackadder told Radio Sport today. "We've put it behind us and now we can focus on the game."
- Newcastle have announced a trio of new signings from north-east clubs Blaydon and Tynedale. Centre James Fitzpatrick and flanker Mark Wilson both move to Kingston Park from Blaydon, while new Falcons head coach Alan Tait has also secured the services of Tynedale hooker Joe Graham.
Graham and Fitzpatrick have played for England Counties this season, while Wilson is a former England Students captain. Tait said, "They are all good tough players and they deserve their chance at the professional level."
- Scotland's summer tour to Argentina will be broadcast by BBC Scotland this year after the broadcaster responded to complaints over its lack of rugby on TV and struck a deal for live coverage of next month's two Tests.
- Worcester Warriors have announced that centre Dale Rasmussen has signed a new one-year deal, with the option for a second year, to remain at Sixways Stadium.
- The Newport Gwent Dragons have confirmed that Gethin Jenkins, the region's Chief Executive, will be leaving at the end of June to take up a new post outside of rugby.