Grannygate brushed under the carpet
Sir John Hall celebrates after Newcastle secured the Premiership in 1998. Hall invested £2.7 million in the club, selling it for £1 a year later © Getty Images
The IRB drew a line under the Grannygate mess but few were happy with an independent judicial committee decision to only severely reprimand Scotland and Wales after they fielded ineligible players. "Errors were made but not a deliberate basis," was the finding as the IRB swept the affair under the carpet in deciding it had been dealt with properly by the affected boards and that it wopuld not appeal the decisions. The WRU had warned that if an appeal had been lodged, it would have demanded that an eligibility study be made of all the nations who played in last year's World Cup. That was something the IRB did not have the appetite for. Wales played New Zealand-born Shane Howarth and Brett Sinkinson and Scotland English-born David Hilton illegally. Howarth and Sinkinson believed they qualified through a Welsh grandparent, but were unable to provide documentary proof.
After a 36-day voyage, the British & Irish Lions arrived in Wellington Harbour aboard the Rangitata for their Test tour of New Zealand. The Lions got off to the best possible start with England centre Carl Aarvold captaining them to a 6-3 victory over the All Blacks in Dunedin, but soon felt the wrath of the host side as they were defeated in the remaining three Tests at Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington.
Newcastle beat Harlequins 44-20 at The Stoop in front of a record crowd of 9000 - boosted by 3000 travelling fans - to record their first and only Premiership. It was a mixed weekend for owner John Hall as they day before Newcastle United, the other side he bankrolled, lost the FA Cup final. " We have caused a massive shock to the system of English rugby,"said Dean Ryan, Newcastle's captain. "Whatever others may say about it, we really don 't care. We are not going to take a massive amount of advice from outside."
Ireland won their first major tour match, beating South-Western Districts 11-6 at Mossel Bay. Tom Kiernan kicked a penalty, a drop a goal and converted hooker Jimmy Dick's try for the tourists. Dick did not play in a Test match on tour, making his one and only international appearance against England in the 1962 Five Nations.
In the big game of their tour, the Barbarians beat their South African counterparts 23-11 in front of a capacity crowd in Port Elizabeth. England's new star David Duckham was left distraught after a missed tackle and two dropped passes cost his side dear. The referee had a howler and upset both sides with endless pedancy - the Daily Mail reported he was being assessed for promotion and was given 0 out of 10. "'Why, don't you talk flaming English," roared Welshman Stephen Gallacher as Jannie Vanwyk chattered away in Afrikaans.
England, having been whitewashed in the Five Nations, opened their short tour of South Africa with a 19-0 win against Natal. Around 30,000 turned out to see England win for the first time in seven outings - almost two years - under coach John Elder. Despite visibly wilting in the heat near the end, hard tackling ensured they kept a clean sheet.
The Lions enjoyed a last-gasp victory in a hard-fought struggle with Natal in Durban. Irish fly-half Ollie Campbell kicked two penalties and converted a try as the tourists won 21-15 but it tok an injury-time try from John Carleton, who had only just come on after having treatment to a leg injury, to snatch the win. Campbell was also crocked, sustaining a hamstring injury that ruled him out of the first Test.
South African star Percy Montgomery made light of the pressure he was under with a 29-point haul as Newport routed Ebbw Vale 61-9. Monty was under a big cloud and waiting for a disciplinary hearing after being sent off for pushing a touch judge over, but he repaid Newport with a magnificent performance, scoring two tries and kicking five conversions and three penalties.
The rebel New Zealand Cavaliers levelled their series with the Springboks. Grant Fox kicked three penalties and a conversion in their 19-18 win in Durban.
Former All Black Frano Botica makes his Test debut for Croatia, contributing 23 points to their 43-24 defeat of Latvia. Fly-half Botica won seven caps for the All Blacks between 1986 and 1989, including the Bledisloe Cup series in 1986.
The Millennium Stadium was announced as the host venue for the Heineken Cup final in May 2006. It was the second time the stadium had hosted the top European tournament's prestigious final and it was the fourth time in 11 years the final had been played in Cardiff.