By Ali Stokes
Sale Sharks' latest signing Chris Ashton has been handed a seven-week ban following a red card he was handed by referee Romain Poite during a pre-season friendly against French side Castre.
See the incident here:
Ashton's return to the Premiership, driven by ambitions to return to Eddie Jones' England squad, will be delayed until the 9th of October, 19 days after Jones will name his squad ahead of the 2018 Autumn Internationals.
Independent panel chair Richard Whittam QC said: "It is an important principle of rugby regulation to prevent injury to others. Provocation is not a defence to foul play and lifting a player and dropping that player such that his head makes contact with the ground has the potential to cause serious injury. While in this case the panel accepts no injury was caused, it still amounted to foul play that clearly met the red card threshold.
"The absence of injury and that the action was as a result of a level of provocation, meant that the panel found this was a low-end entry point. Mr Ashton's poor disciplinary record was an aggravating feature and the panel added one week to reflect that. The panel considered at length the prescriptive list of factors in relation to mitigation, but none were sufficient to reduce the length of the sanction."
Sale boss Steve Diamond may be left frustrated in the news of Ashton's ban, but will find comfort - however minimal - in the news that their Romanian prop Alexandru Tarus, who was also handed a red card during the Castre game, will receive no further sanction. Furthermore, the disciplinary panel remarked Tarus's indiscretion was not deserving of the card he was shown.
An RFU statement read, "decided that while there was an act of foul play it did not meet the red card threshold and so the red card should be removed from the player's record with a yellow card instated instead. The player is therefore free to play again immediately."
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