A stinging verbal outburst by Sale owner Simon Orange during a recent RFU disciplinary hearing has laid bare the broken relationship that now exists between the Manchester club and Premiership rivals Gloucester. At the heart of the fall-out was how Springbok midfielder Rohan Janse van Rensburg – who wanted a move away from South Africa in June 2017 following the death of his mother, an ACL injury and being the victim of an armed robbery at his home – wound up signing contracts with both Gloucester and Sale at the same time.

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That extraordinary situation led to the disciplinary hearing which resulted this week in the South African receiving a two-week suspension and a £32,500 fine, of which £25,000 must be repaid to Gloucester after they advanced him that sum of money when he initially signed in October 2017. 

Sale were given a five points deduction, suspended for two forthcoming seasons, and a fine of £20,000, while van Rensburg’s agent Matthew Ginvert received a reprimand, a fine of £3,750 and was directed to undertake the agent’s education programme.  In announcing these punishments on Friday, the RFU released the compelling 25-page written verdict of the three-person independent disciplinary panel comprising James Dingemans (chair) with Tim Ward QC and Gareth Graham. 

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Included in the 80 sub-sections sifting through the various parts of the case, part 34 recalled the January 2018 communication between Sale owner Orange and Stephen Vaughan, the Gloucester director who has since gone on to become Wasps’ chief executive. That telephone call resulted in Orange calling Vaughan a liar more than two years later when the ex-Gloucester administrator gave evidence to the disciplinary panel.

The written verdict stated: “On January 2, 2018, Simon Orange, the owner of Sale, rang Stephen Vaughan, a director of Gloucester, and asked whether Gloucester had signed van Rensburg. Vaughan confirmed that Gloucester had signed van Rensburg but asked that the matter be kept quiet. Orange said that Vaughan had used the words ‘hush, hush’ but Vaughan did not accept that he had used those words. 

“We cannot see that anything very much turns on this particular point, it being just the sort of difference in recollection that one might expect from honest witnesses attempting to recall some two years after the event the details of a conversation which was not recorded or noted. 

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“When Vaughan was giving evidence Orange was watching on his own laptop. Orange was in the same room (at a safe distance for Covid-19 reasons) as Martin Budworth, counsel for van Rensburg and Sale who was questioning Vaughan through Budworth’s laptop.

“Orange could be heard calling Vaughan a liar in comments which must have been picked up by the microphone on Budworth’s computer. When Orange gave evidence he particularly remarked that Gloucester seemed to believe that its directors had a ‘divine right’ to be believed. 

“We can confirm that no witness has such a right to be believed, but we could not discern any basis on which we should not accept Vaughan’s evidence which was given in a straightforward manner and accorded with the documents. 

“We accept that Orange believed that the words hush hush had been used, but this was consistent with Vaughan either asking that the matter be kept quiet and Orange remembering the words used as hush hush, or Vaughan using the words hush hush and remembering that as a request that the matter be kept quiet.”

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The contentious 2018 phone call was further referenced in section 35 of the written verdict. “In evidence, Orange said that in the phone call Vaughan was slippery and that he immediately did not believe that Gloucester had signed van Rensburg. However in an email dated April 25, 2018, from Orange to Martin St Quinton, the chairman of Gloucester, Orange said ‘when Steve told me you had signed the player I had no reason not to believe him UNTIL we asked the player and he told he definitely had not signed a contract’.

“It is not possible to reconcile the email with Orange’s oral evidence to us. This is because Orange could not immediately have disbelieved Vaughan because he was slippery and yet said ‘I had no reason not to believe him’ in the email.”

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