Pat Lam's side have been punished for fielding an ineligible player in the first two rounds of the Challenge Cup

Bristol Bears docked five points and fined £8,750

Bristol Bears have been docked five points and handed a suspended fine of £8,750 (€10,000) after fielding an ineligible player in the first two rounds of this season’s European Challenge Cup against Perpignan and Zebre.

Second row Elliott Stooke was listed as a replacement for both matches having been registered as an additional player after being made redundant by Wasps. However, under European governing body EPCR rules, an additional player must be contracted at a club for a minimum of three months.

And when Bristol permitted Stooke to invoke an early release clause and join Montpellier before his three months had elapsed, he retrospectively became ineligible for those first two matches.

Bristol have won all three of their Challenge Cup matches so far to qualify for the Last 16 and despite the four-point deduction, their place in the next round is not at threat. The Bears now sit fifth in Pool A on nine points.

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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 not all the relevant Bristol Bears staff members were aware of Stooke’s release clause and therefore it was an honest clerical mistake to register him as an additional player.

Bristol apologised for the mistake and confirmed a review of the club’s work practices in the area would be carried out. The fine is suspended until the end of the 2023-24 season and will only need to be paid if Bristol commit another breach of EPCR rules.

Bristol confirmed they will not be appealing the decision and would be making no further comment.

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