Guinness Premiership
Riled Saracens launch Venter appeal
May 20, 2010

The war of words between Saracens and the Rugby Football Union has intensified with fresh insults flowing in the wake of director of rugby Brendan Venter's 14-week touchline ban.

The RFU launched a strongly-worded attack on Saracens' initial response to the sanction earlier today along with the full written judgement from Tuesday's hearing which provoked another angry reply from the Premiership finalists.

Venter's conduct at the hearing was called into question by RFU disciplinary office Jeff Blackett who highlighted the South African's "disdain" for the proceedings. The RFU panel was particularly irked by the behaviour of Venter, who ate a biscuit while being informed of his punishment, and his failure "to understand the seriousness of this case".

Adding a farcical tone to the exchange was a statement issued later by Saracens chief executive Edward Griffiths, who declared the club would appeal the ban. "This kind of public attack on a leading club does the RFU no credit at all," said Griffiths. "The judgement borders on self-parody, citing Venter eating a biscuit as alleged evidence of disdain for the process. Why did the RFU provide biscuits if they were not to be eaten? Perhaps it is time for English rugby to be run like a modern professional sport and not a rural prep school."

Venter was handed the hefty punishment on Tuesday after being found guilty of making inappropriate gestures and comments to spectators during his side's 32-23 Premiership win at Leicester on May 8. He was cleared of a charge of pushing a female Leicester supporter but the ban means he will not be allowed any contact with his side when they face a re-match against the Tigers in the Guinness Premiership final a week on Saturday.

In outlining the sanction imposed, the RFU's judgement read, "Witnesses spoke of his arrogant behaviour and the panel witnessed a certain disdain from Venter when he appeared at the hearing (for example by coming back to hear his sanction eating a biscuit and throwing sweet papers across the table) - and it is important that any sanction has a salutary effect so that he modifies his behaviour in future. If he cannot control his emotional outbursts then he is likely to come before a disciplinary panel again."

The panel cleared Venter of pushing or hitting Leicester supporter Sue Brooks, 62, during one of the exchanges with angry fans that occurred throughout the match, stating any contact was accidental. In her testimony, Brooks claimed Venter said to her "you will die of a heart attack" but it was accepted that he instead "suggested she should calm down or she would have a heart attack". However, the panel censored Venter for knowingly provoking the crowd and stated his behaviour was in stark contrast to that of any other visiting coach during the season.

Saracens reacted to the panel's verdict by railing against the lack of respect shown to Venter at Welford Road. But their complaint was given short shrift by Blackett, who accused the club of neglecting their duty to uphold the values of the game.

"This incident has highlighted a very worrying trend in rugby whereby some participants and spectators seem to have lost sight of the core values of the sport," said Blackett. "It is those core values which help to make the sport attractive to current and future participants and to sponsors. We neglect them at our peril.

"The response of the Saracens management to these proceedings has been very disappointing and statements on their website criticising these proceedings do the club no credit. Their staff were clearly involved in some unpleasant events on May 8 which could have led to significant crowd trouble, but they have sought to lay blame elsewhere. All clubs have a responsibility to maintain the core values of the game and to ensure their staff's conduct is exemplary. On this occasion Saracens should have done more to ensure better behaviour amongst their own staff and to reprimand them for their poor behaviour afterwards."

On the charge relating to Venter's alleged comments and gestures to spectators, Blackett's verdict is equally damning. The decision documents that Venter waved and blew kisses in the direction of the Leicester supporters who were calling at him to sit down as he was blocking their view of the action.

Stewards had to be called to deal with the situation and referees' assessor Brian Campsall even felt that he had to move to a seat further away from Venter as the 40-year-old complained about the performance of referee Andrew Small. As part of Saracens' defence a statement read on behalf of first-team coach Mark McCall alleged that his side's coaching staff had faced a torrent of abuse from "aggressive" Tigers fans.

"He (Venter) certainly made comments to the crowd which even on his own admission had an element of sarcasm, but there is strong evidence that the Saracens coaches swore at the crowd," the ruling continued. "We accept that he may not have sworn, but he did nothing to reprimand those of his staff within his hearing for doing so, and he certainly made comments which would provoke the crowd. There is no doubt that Venter is a passionate and dedicated coach, but on May 8 he showed a lack of restraint in his behaviour which provoked the crowd.

"His conduct was prejudicial to the interests of the game and the union because it conflicted with a core value, it caused distress in the crowd which merited intervention by officials and it reflected badly on the reputation of the game. We therefore find the second charge proved."


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