Six Nations: a union of lawyers and rugby
8 February 2010 | By Gavriel Hollander
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12 June 2006
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Rugby and the law have always been happy bedfellows. In the innocent amateur days of yore it was not uncommon to see a barrister tearing down the wing or mixing it in the front row at your local club.
Former Memery Crystal partner Brian Moore even had time to rack up 64 England caps in his spare time, returning briefly to the law before becoming a rugby commentator.
With the Six Nations kicking off at the weekend, the annual junket for lawyers is now in full swing. But while City partners and their clients sit quaffing champagne in corporate boxes at Twickenham and Murrayfield, for others the tournament represents that rare mix of work with pleasure.
Among those watching England take on Wales on Saturday (6 February) were two barristers from Guildhall Chambers who were taking more than a fan’s interest in proceedings.
Richard Smith QC is a leading sports law barrister and a former rugby player who landed what must surely be many people’s dream job when then England coach Clive Woodward picked up the phone before the 2003 Rugby World Cup.
“Clive took the view that he needed someone with a sports law background to travel to Australia with the team,” explains Smith. “It was groundbreaking at the time. A lot of people both within the Rugby Football Union and outside it questioned it, but events over the years have proved it to be vital.”
The importance of the role was proved almost immediately when Smith had to act quickly to prevent the team being docked points after it was found to have 16 men on the pitch during a group game with Samoa.
Since that heady Australian summer Smith has travelled the world as legal support for both the England team and the British & Irish Lions. He has also represented players from virtually every Guinness Premiership club.
One of Smith’s more difficult jobs came during England’s summer tour of New Zealand in 2008, when four players were accused of sexual assault.
“It was demanding,” he admits. “In terms of the coordination and the politics involved it was very difficult. It’s always regrettable when the focus is on something like that rather than the sport itself.
“One of the features of my role is that you go away with the team and you’re there with them, but you hope you don’t have anything to do.”
Christopher Quinlan is another Guildhall member who was at Twickenham, but as a judicial officer on the International Rugby Board’s (IRB) disciplinary panel, impartiality rules mean he was able to relax and enjoy the game.
Quinlan does not sit on any panels involving either the England team or his beloved Bristol Rugby, although that has not stopped him chairing some of the more high-profile hearings this season.
He has overseen hearings featuring Gloucester Rugby’s Oliver Azam, who was suspended for kicking England captain Steve Borthwick during a game with his club Saracens, and Leinster Rugby flanker Shane Jennings, who was banned for 12 weeks after making contact with the eye area of London Irish forward Nick Kennedy.
Like Smith, Quinlan has worked all over the world in his capacity as gamekeeper for the IRB and the European Rugby Board. But while Smith’s highlight was seeing England lift the World Cup in Sydney, Quinlan remembers some of the less glamorous locations.
“Wherever I’ve been sent - Australia, Italy, France - the most generous union I’ve come across was in Tbilisi when I officiated on a Georgia game,” he recalls. “They were extremely hospitable, tremendously enthusiastic about the game and they couldn’t do enough for me.”
But with minnows such as Georgia still some way off being admitted to the Six Nations, commentators fear that England will have a tough time in this year’s tournament. So where do the lawyers see the title heading?
“As much as I’d like England to do well, it’s hard to see beyond Ireland or Wales,” says Quinlan.
“The first game is massive,” says Smith. “If we get over that we’ll be alright, but France are the real force at the moment.”
So if Smith was a betting man, would he go against the team that pays his wages and put money on the French? “No, I’d have to back England,” he insists.
Given the team’s recent onfield travails, though, that might be the lawyer, not the rugby fan, talking.