Saints and sinners in the dock after brawl in Northampton”s clash with Leicester
Chris Ashton and two fellow English Saints could be punished for their sins, along with a giant Samoan Tiger who was a central figure in the brawl which scarred last Saturday’s East Midlands derby at Welford Road.
England wing Ashton, Test captaincy contender Tom Wood and his Northampton back-row team-mate Phil Dowson face disciplinary hearings in London this afternoon, along with Alesana Tuilagi of Leicester.
Ashton was cited last night for pulling Tuilagi into touch by his dreadlocks which led to a touchline brawl in the first half of a fiery Aviva Premiership encounter.
Fight! Alesana Tuilagi”s hair is pulled by Northampton”s Chris Ashton
The 24-year-old cross-code international will face the charge of an ‘act contrary to good sportsmanship’, for the way he seized Tuilagi by the hair and dragged him into advertising boards. If found guilty under Law 10.4 (m), Ashton could face a ban of four weeks for a ‘low-end’ offence, or seven weeks if it is deemed to be ‘mid range’.
In all likelihood, he will receive a low-end tariff and based on a lack of on-field disciplinary issues in the past, there is every chance he could be suspended for just two weeks. But, with a new England coaching team soon to be installed ahead of the Six Nations, this episode is an untimely setback for Ashton.
For Northampton, his loss would deprive them of a major attacking threat as they prepare for back-to-back games against French club Castres in the Heineken Cup, which will make or break their European campaign after two successive defeats. But they face the prospect of widespread disruption as two moremembers of their squad face hearings today.
Dowson was cited last week for an allegedly dangerous tackle on Saracens full back Alex Goode at Franklin’s Gardens on November 26, but video evidence suggests that the level of offence, if any, is minimal and he may escape sanction.
Brawl! A free for all lead to red cards for Alesana Tuilagi and Tom Wood
Wood is another of Northampton’s England contingent in danger of being banned after wading in to support Ashton at Welford Road, which led to a red card for punching.
A three-man panel chaired by RFU disciplinary officer Judge Jeff Blackett -which will hear all the cases today — must decide whether the action taken by referee Wayne Barnes was sufficient. Though Wood did become involved, footage of his conduct is far from damning so there is a chance he could be spared further punishment.
Hairy moment: Ashton is cited for pulling the hair of Alesana Tuilagi
There is also a possibility that Tuilagi’s dismissal will be judged a more-than-sufficient sanction as TVpictures suggest he did no more than angrily lift Ashton by the shirt before being set upon.
Another of the Saints’ England forwards, lock Courtney Lawes, was involved in the melee at Welford Road, but he was not cited last night.
While Wood could find himself in hot water, his Test captaincy case has been championed by a previous holder of the post, Martin Corry.
Despite the competing claims of Harlequins skipper Chris Robshaw, among others, the former Lions back-rower said: ‘You pick the team and then you pick the captain. Wood has been in the squad, equipped himself exceptionally well and proven heis no doubt Test match standard. I see very little risk there.
‘As it is, Robshaw is an unknown quantity — can he make the step up The media are latching on to him butwe’ve got to find out if he’s Test quality.’
The uncertainty over who will lead England into the Six Nations is reflected in the odds — Ladbrokes make Robshaw 3-1 favourite and Wood is out at 8-1, behind Dylan Hartley and Tom Croft, while William Hill have Wood and Hartley as 9-2 joint favourites, with Robshaw a 20-1 shot.