Tuilagi hit with five-week ban
May 18, 2011
Leicester's Manu Tuilagi trudges to the sin-bin after being yellow carded at Welford Road on Saturday © Getty Images
Leicester centre Manu Tuilagi has been handed a five-week ban after being found guilty of striking Northampton winger Chris Ashton during their Aviva Premiership semi-final clash at Welford Road last weekend.
Tuilagi, who turned 20 today, pleaded guilty to punching Ashton at an RFU disciplinary hearing in London this evening and will be sidelined from tomorrow until June 23, ruling him out of the Premiership Final against Saracens on May 28 and the England Saxons' Churchill Cup campaign.
Judge Jeff Blackett, who chaired the panel, ruled that the offence fell into the top end category but reduced an initial 10-week ban by 50% because of Tuilagi's "youth and inexperience, his admission of guilt and his genuine remorse" while also indicating that "provocation" on the part of Ashton had influenced his judgement.
"This was a Top End entry offence because there were three punches, the third of which was extremely forceful and caused significant injury," Blackett said in a statement. "However, we also determined that there was some provocation from Chris Ashton who pushed and struck him in the back with his knee.
"The Top End range is 8-52 weeks and we determined that the appropriate entry point within that range is 10 weeks. This was reduced by 50% to reflect Manu's youth and inexperience, his admission of guilt and his genuine remorse.
"This sort of incident is very damaging to the image of the game and there is no place for this type of offending on the rugby pitch. Had it occurred in the high street an offender would have been prosecuted in the criminal courts. Nevertheless we are confident that Manu Tuilagi will learn a valuable lesson from this," concluded Blackett.
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Both Tuilagi and Ashton were yellow-carded by referee Wayne Barnes in the 32nd-minute of the Tigers' 11-3 victory, but assistant referee Robin Goodliffe has been criticised for failing to advise that Tuilagi should have been shown a straight red.
Television replays showed that Ashton's only part in the episode was to push Tuilagi after he had been taken out off the ball by the Leicester player. Tuilagi then responded by throwing three punches at Ashton, the latter a crunching right hook that left the Saints star requiring stitches to a cut near his left eye.
Tuilagi now faces a battle to prove his worth to England manager Martin Johnson ahead of the World Cup later this year.
Johnson's side tackle the Barbarians on May 29 and have further World Cup warm-up clashes scheduled against Wales (August 6 & 13) and Ireland (August 27).
A 10-week ban would have severely hampered Tuilagi's World Cup hopes but this favourable sanction means he still has a chance to stake a claim in Johnson's squad for the tournament that must be announced on August 22.
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