ERC gets tough on discipline
European rugby bosses are tightening up on player discipline ahead of this season's Heineken Cup, which was launched at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on Monday.
Derek McGrath, chief executive of European Rugby Cup Limited, said talks had been held with the world governing body, the International Rugby Board, over the summer about on and off-field foul play in an effort to protect the integrity of the competition.
Those talks referred to both the Heineken Cup and the second-tier Amlin Challenge Cup, and McGrath said: "Although structures are very important for ERC and the tournament, we have, during the summer period, contributed to the discussions to IRB regulation 17 which governs discipline."
He added: "We have the benefit of being able to review our structures on an annual basis and we are focused on protecting the integrity of the tournaments and, through that, ensuring consistency of standards, fairness and transparency of our approach."
McGrath insists that the move is not a response to the 'Bloodgate' scandal which rocked rugby union last year and threatened to tarnish the game's image.
The fall-out from that incident saw Quins director of rugby Dean Richards handed a three-year suspension, Williams received a 12-month ban that was eventually reduced to four and the club were fined £258,000. Subsequently this month, the then-Quins physiotherapist Steph Brennan was struck off by the Health Professions Council for his part in the affair.
However, McGrath insisted: "You can refer to specific cases but we have had a number of serious cases over the years.
"This is not a comment on a specific case but a comment that, as the game grows, what is important to us is defending the integrity of the tournaments and all that is involved in it.
"It is the spine of the product we generate. We have had high-profile examples in recent times where serious cases have been brought and serious decisions have come down."