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Aviva Premiership
Ashton handed four-week ban for Tuilagi tussle
ESPNscrum Staff
December 6, 2011
Northampton's Chris Ashton looks for an opening, Ospreys v Northampton Saints, Anglo-Welsh Cup, Liberty Stadium, Swansea, Wales, October 22, 2011
Northampton's Chris Ashton is set for a spell on the sidelines following his part in the recent Welford Road brawl © Getty Images
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England and Northampton winger Chris Ashton has been hit with a four-week ban by the Rugby Football Union after being found guilty of dragging Leicester's Alesana Tuilagi off the pitch by his hair during Saturday's fiery Aviva Premiership clash at Welford Road.

Ashton sparked a touchline brawl in the first half of the Tigers' 30-25 victory that saw Tuilagi and Northampton flanker Tom Wood sent off by referee Wayne Barnes. Ashton escaped sanction for his part in the ugly fracas but was subsequently cited and called to appear at a disciplinary hearing this evening.

The 24-year-old will now miss Saints' crucial back-to-back Heineken Cup fixtures against Castres, the Christmas Eve Premiership clash with Bath and the New Year's Day trip to Newcastle. Ashton will be free to play again in time for the Premiership game against current leaders Harlequins on January 6 while the red cards issued to Tuilagi and Wood were deemed as sufficient punishment.

RFU disciplinary officer Judge Jeff Blackett, who chaired the three-man panel, said: "We accepted that this started by accident but it became clear that at some stage Chris Ashton knew what he was doing. If you pull somebody by the hair there is an element of denigration and this act was a catalyst for a mass brawl that resulted in two red cards and significantly affected the image of the game.

"Without any laid-down guidance on sanction we have aligned the offence to that of spitting and reduced the entry level points to that of three, six and 10 weeks for low, mid-range and top end respectively. This was a mid-range offence but we have reduced the sanction by two weeks based on the player's good record and conduct at the hearing."

Ashton, who was also ordered to pay £500 in costs, has 48 hours to lodge an appeal once he has received the full judgement. Citing commissioner Mike Rafter issued level one citings - the equivalent of a yellow card - to Leicester duo Geordan Murphy and Horacio Agulla and Northampton lock Courtney Lawes for their roles in the mass brawl. The players were not required to appear before the disciplinary panel and can continue playing.

Earlier in the evening, Northampton forward Phil Dowson was banned for two weeks after pleading guilty to a dangerous tackle on Saracens fullback Alex Goode in the Saints' 30-8 victory on November 26. Dowson will miss the two Castres games and he was also ordered to pay £500 in costs.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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