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Page last updated at 20:51 GMT, Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Lee Byrne cleared of ban and free for England v Wales

Lee Byrne
Ospreys full-back Lee Byrne's blood-bin began the 16-man confusion

Wales full-back Lee Byrne has had a two-week ban overturned, leaving him free to face England in the Six Nations opener at Twickenham on Saturday.

The ban had been imposed by European Rugby Cup after his brief appearance as an illegal 16th player in the Ospreys' 17-12 Heineken Cup win over Leicester.

The suspension has been replaced by a fine of 5,000 Euros on the 29-year-old.

Wales coach Warren Gatland has delayed naming his team and is likely to hand Byrne the 15 shirt.

James Hook is set to be named in midfield when Gatland announces his starting line-up at 1300 GMT on Wednesday.

An independent ERC appeal committee comprising Scots Rod McKenzie, Lorne Crerar and Bill Dunlop sat in Glasgow on Tuesday and overruled the original suspension that was imposed last week.

Byrne and the Ospreys had both pleaded guilty to the misconduct complaints in Dublin on Friday, the club fined £21,666 (25,000 Euros) while the player was left facing missing out on the start of the Six Nations.

606: DEBATE

The committee chaired by Pat Barriscale of Ireland had found that Byrne had re-entered the pitch without the referee's permission and that he knew or ought to have known that he needed that permission.

The British and Irish Lions full-back had gone off in the second-half of the Heineken Cup Pool Three clash suffering from a dislocated and bloodied toe and was replaced by centre Sonny Parker.

But Byrne was sent back on at the Liberty Stadium three minutes later after treatment without any of his team-mates going off.

A Tigers player pointed out the Ospreys' numerical advantage to referee Alan Lewis, who then berated an Ospreys touchline official for not informing the match fourth official that Byrne had returned.

The official also did not award Leicester the penalty they should have had for Ospreys temporarily fielding an extra player.

Fly-half Dan Biggar eventually departed as the Ospreys returned to 15 men to hold on during a torrid finale of constant Leicester pressure.

Leicester claimed Byrne was involved in halting a break by scrum-half Ben Youngs as Tigers looked to claw back their 17-12 deficit.

The triumph ensured the Ospreys' qualification for the Heineken Cup quarter-final, while the defeat knocked Leicester out.

Byrne is one of Wales' key players and was badly missed when injured in the autumn as they slumped to defeats to New Zealand and Australia.

"I'm absolutely over the moon to be honest, I'm just glad to put the last four or five days behind me and be back on familiar ground preparing for a game of rugby rather than thinking about an appeal hearing," said Byrne in an interview conducted by the WRU.

"It's just going to be great to get back to international rugby, it feels like I've been away for ages after missing out on the autumn internationals due to the injury I picked up with the Lions.

"I'm really looking forward to getting back on the field at Twickenham and there's nothing like starting back with the big one against England in a centenary game.

"The expectation at the start of any campaign is immense but the senior players in this squad have been through a lot together now, we have the experience and we have just got to handle that pressure, we know can do it.

"We started the campaign in 2008 with a win against them at Twickenham for the first time in 20 years and look what happened then, it's all about winning that first game and then building some momentum."

Welsh Rugby Union group chief executive Roger Lewis expressed his delight after hearing that Byrne was free to face England.

"I am delighted that the independent appeal committee have reached this decision which is great news for Lee Byrne and for Wales," said Lewis.

"It has been an extremely difficult time for the player, but we have been determined to give him all the support he needed to achieve this fair resolution of a difficult matter.

"It has not been an easy decision either for the original independent committee hearing the evidence or the appeal panel and I applaud them all on their diligence in this matter.

"I hope this sends out a message to the followers of Welsh rugby that the WRU is an organisation which will always stand by individuals who deserve and need our help.

"We sat down with Lee as soon as the original penalty was announced and started to plan for the appeal.

"There have been a lot of meetings and discussions over the past days but it has all been worthwhile because we are now celebrating an important victory for all concerned.

"I know how hard all the players, coaches and backroom staff in the national squad work for success and they must always be confident that the WRU will stand firm in support of all their efforts.

"We want every player who pulls on a Welsh jersey to know that we are with them all the way.

"Now it's back to business and we can all look forward to a great game of rugby at Twickenham."



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