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Bath dodge possible points deduction by the barest of margins

By Paul Smith
Stuart Hooper /PA

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Bath finally broke their Gallagher Premiership seasonal duck with a battling 22-19 win over Worcester at the Rec on Sunday.

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And with two points also this weekend being awarded for their recent COVID cancellation against London Irish Stuart Hooper’s team now trail the Warriors and local rivals Bristol by 11 points at the foot of the table.

However, details have since emerged of a communications error which went within minutes of causing a potential points deduction which would have reversed Bath’s progress.

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According to Somerset Live, winger Will Muir was forced to withdraw from the home line-up after not only being named in the side but also having taken part in the warm-up.

Muir was replaced minutes before kick-off by Tom Prydie after Bath received an email from EPCR – the organisers of the European Champions and Challenge Cups – advising that he was ineligible to play.

The 26-year-old former England Sevens squad member was handed a four-match ban for ‘recklessly making contact with the eye’ of flanker Josh Van der Flier during his club’s Heineken Champions Cup meeting with Leinster on December 11.

However, Muir’s disciplinary ruling also advised that he “is free to play on Monday 10 January 2022,” by which point, had COVID not intervened, Bath would have played five rather than four games.

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Bath have in fact taken the field just once since their trip to the Aviva Stadium since La Rochelle were unable to travel due to French government restrictions before a COVID outbreak forced Hooper’s club to forfeit a Premiership Cup game against Exeter and a league match against London Irish.

It has since emerged that EPCR did not count the December 29 cup clash with Exeter as one of the four games that counted towards his suspension.

Speaking about the late change Bath director of rugby Stuart Hooper said: “We will get more details in due course, but he was cleared to play off the back of his ban and then literally minutes before kick-off I was notified there was an error and he wasn’t cleared to play.

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“It is really, really poor and I am very disappointed but we will go through the right process to work out what went wrong there. It was literally right before the game so I haven’t had any more contact at the moment.”

The most notable incident of a Premiership club being disciplined for fielding an ineligible player came in 2013 when ill-fated London Welsh were docked five points after Kiwi scrum half Tyson Keats was found to be playing under an ancestry visa issued following the submission of falsified paperwork.

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