BREAKING: Bristol Bears fined and deducted points - Ruck

BREAKING: Bristol Bears fined and deducted points

Bristol Bears have been deducted five match points and handed a suspended fine of €10,000 following an independent Disciplinary Hearing arising from the club’s EPCR Challenge Cup, Round 1 and Round 2 fixtures against USAP and Zebre Parma respectively.

Bristol Bears were charged with misconduct by EPCR as the club was believed to have breached the 2022/23 Tournament Rules by selecting an ineligible player, Elliott Stooke, as a replacement in their match day squads for both fixtures in Pool A.

An independent Disciplinary Committee comprising Roger Morris (Wales), Chair, Kathrine Mackie (Scotland) and David Martin (Ireland), heard submissions from the Bristol Bears Chief Executive, Gavin Marshall, Chief Operating Officer, Tom Tainton, and Director of Rugby, Pat Lam, who accepted that the club had committed a breach of EPCR’s Tournament Rules, and from the EPCR Disciplinary Officer, Liam McTiernan.

The committee heard that Stooke, who had been previously made redundant by Wasps, was properly registered to play for Bristol Bears as an Additional Player in the EPCR Challenge Cup, and that under EPCR’s rules, Additional Players must be contracted to the club for a minimum period of three months.

In addition, the committee heard that clubs must also sign an Additional Player Undertaking to ensure that the three-month contract remains in full force and effect for the entire three-month period, and to ensure that players do not enter into a contract or arrangement with any other club that would prevent them from playing for the club with which they have been registered.

The committee was told that following his participation in the matches against USAP and Zebre Parma, Stooke informed Bristol Bears that he wished to activate an early release clause in his contract and was taking up an offer to join Montpellier Hérault Rugby.

Not Another Rugby Podcast:

However, by permitting Stooke to sign for Montpellier Hérault Rugby before the three-month period had elapsed, Bristol Bears unwittingly breached the Additional Player Undertaking, and Stooke therefore became retrospectively ineligible for the Round 1 and Round 2 matches against USAP and Zebre Parma.

The committee heard that as all relevant members of Bristol Bears’ staff were not aware that Stooke had an early release clause in his contract, the member of staff responsible had made an honest clerical mistake when registering him as an Additional Player. They apologised for the error and confirmed that a review of the club’s work practices in this area would be carried out.

While accepting that Bristol Bears had committed a genuine error, and had not sought to gain an unfair advantage in any way, the committee determined that with the need to uphold the integrity of the EPCR Challenge Cup as paramount, the club was guilty of misconduct due to a breach of EPCR’s Tournament Rules and it was decided to deduct five match points from their overall total after Round 3 of the EPCR Challenge Cup, and to impose a fine of €10,000.

The fine is suspended until the end of the 2023/24 season and will only become payable if Bristol Bears are found to have committed a further breach of EPCR’s Tournament Rules during that period.

Bristol Bears will not be appealing the decision and will make no further comment.