Ulster reject Stade claims Ferris altered his evidence in Dupuy appeal
Published 15/01/2010 | 05:00
Ulster have rejected an accusation from Stade Francais president Max Guazzini that Stephen Ferris changed his evidence before the ERC disciplinary appeal panel that upheld scrum-half Julien Dupuy's ban for eye-gouging.
"Ulster Rugby have been made aware of these allegations," said their operations manager, David Humphreys. "We believe that Stephen Ferris has maintained a consistent version of events throughout the hearings.
"The ERC has made its decision and as a result, Ulster Rugby considers the matter closed and will be making no further comment."
Dupuy was caught on camera probing the eyes of Ferris during their December Heineken Cup clash and an ERC disciplinary panel banned the French international for 24 weeks, before Wednesday's appeal reduced the ban by a week.
However, the controversial Guazzini, who has vowed to fight on in the French courts, launched a blizzard of criticism at the ERC after the appeal, effectively accusing them of racism, while also lambasting the role of Ferris.
"It is a very heavy sanction," Guazzini said. "They (ERC) wanted to make an example and the fact Dupuy is French probably played a role. Ferris told the hearing there was no gouging and that he was slapped and the ban was excessive, totally unjustified.
"We will not leave it here and we will be making representations to LNR (French National Rugby League) and the French Rugby Federation."
Wednesday's three-man appeal panel found that the six-month ban, handed out by the independent judicial officer Jeff Blackett last month, had been determined in error, albeit a minor one.
The panel said that Blackett, who had set Dupuy's ban at 40 weeks only to take 16 off for mitigating factors, had taken into account the need for deterrence when determining that Dupuy's offence merited top-level entry in terms of seriousness rather than as an aggravating factor.
But the trio agreed with Blackett that the two counts of making contact with Ferris' eye did, indeed, merit a top-end entry, which meant a minimum six-month ban.
French law decrees that because the ban was imposed outside the country, it has to be upheld by the LNR. Even if they uphold it, as the IRB are likely to insist, given the worldwide crackdown on the egregious crime, Stade may turn to the French courts, who traditionally sympathise in cases where a player's right to work is compromised. French coach Marc Lievremont has also declared that the ban is excessive.
Last year, there was a similar cause celebre when the Perpignan hooker, Marius Tincu, won his case in a French court after being banned for 18 weeks for gouging during a Heineken Cup match against Ospreys.
If the courts rule the same way in the case of Dupuy, the IRB's disciplinary system would be exposed to ridicule as the player's Heineken Cup ban would be allowed to stand, but he would be free to play in all other competitions.
Hence, it is entirely conceivable that the eye-gouger, Dupuy, and his victim, Ferris, could find themselves confronting each other once again when their countries clash in the Six Nations in Paris next month.