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Byrne to face England

GLASGOW, February 3 – Lee Byrne will be available for Wales's Six Nations opener against England this weekend after successfully appealing on Tuesday against a two week ban.
The fullback was suspended last Friday after admitting a misconduct charge for briefly appearing as an illegal 16th man after coming back on without the referee’s permission during the Ospreys’ 17-12 European Cup victory against Leicester on January 23.

In common with most rugby union suspensions, Byrne’s ensuing ban until February 12 ruled him out of all competitions.

It also led Wales coach Warren Gatland to delay his team announcement for Saturday’s match against England at Twickenham.

But an all Scottish three-man appeal hearing in Glasgow on Tuesday found the original decision had been in error and altered Byrne’s punishment to a 5,000 euros fine.

A ruling, announced almost four hours after Byrne’s hearing began, by tournament organisers European Rugby Cup (ERC) said: "The independent appeal committee…found Mr Byrne had demonstrated the original decision had been in error and the sanction should be varied to a fine of 5,000 euros.

"Mr Byrne is free to play again."

Roger Lewis, chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU), who helped Byrne prepare his appeal, said: "I am delighted that the independent appeal committee have reached this decision which is great news for Lee Byrne and for Wales.

It has been an extremely difficult time for the player…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."

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

Leicester, whose defeat meant they were knocked out of Europe, lodged an official complaint with ERC after Byrne went back on following his departure due to a bloodied toe.

Sonny Parker replaced him three minutes earlier but the Ospreys briefly had 16 players on the field until fly-half Dan Biggar went off.

Tuesday’s ruling was a huge boost to Wales, who are now set to name their side on Wednesday.

In the corresponding fixture at Twickenham two years ago it was Byrne’s try that led to a Wales revival and a 26-19 victory.

It was Wales’s first win at Twickenham in 20 years and the first game of what turned out to be a grand slam season.

Now Byrne is set to start at fullback, Gatland is free to field James Hook in midfield alongside Jamie Roberts as Wales chase a fourth straight win against England.

Gifted playmaker Hook was drafted in at fullback during Wales’s November home programme when Byrne was injured but the move was not a success.

Wales great Barry John said Gatland must get Hook "closer to the action where he can become involved again in some of the key decision-making".

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