Saracens may appeal Chris Ashton's 10-week ban for making contact with eye area of Ulster's Luke Marshall
Published 22/01/2016 | 16:52
Saracens are considering whether to appeal the 10-week suspension issued to Chris Ashton after receiving the written judgement of the verdict which has ruled him out of England's entire RBS 6 Nations.
Ashton has been banned for making contact with the eye or eye area of Ulster centre Luke Marshall during a first-half challenge in last Saturday's Champions Cup victory at Allianz Park.
The 28-year-old wing pulled Marshall to the ground with his left arm while grabbing his opponent's face with his right hand. "We have received the written judgement and are digesting the information. We will discuss it with our legal team before deciding whether to appeal," a Saracens spokesman said.
The Aviva Premiership champions now have 72 hours to decide whether to contest the outcome of the disciplinary hearing, held in London on Wednesday.
In the written judgement published on Friday afternoon, it is revealed that judicial officer Jean Noel Couraud viewed the tackle as a red card offence that exposed Marshall to the risk of serious injury.
Ashton's legal team argued that the contact with Marshall's face was entirely accidental and unintended, but Couraud rejected this defence in the belief he had acted recklessly.
Couraud's findings state that: "The player clearly grabbed the victim player's face and put his right hand in the eyes or eye area of his opponent.
"The player made a conscious effort to play the head area and face of the victim player. He intentionally reached and grabbed with his right hand the victim player's head and face. He knew, or should have known, there was a risk of committing an act of foul play. The contact was not accidental but was reckless. He committed the foul alleged in the citing and this act warranted a red card."
Ashton's legal team argued that the entry-level sanction for the offence of 12 weeks would be "wholly disproportionate" for reasons including the Saracens player's good record and the lack of injury inflicted - and urged for any suspension to be reduced by a minimum of 50 per cent.
The judicial officer, however, noted the need for a deterrent to combat this type of offence. Marshall, who revealed his vision has not been affected by the tackle at all, said: "His hand came into contact with my face and eye area for a sustained period of time.
"His fingers however did not go into my eyes. His fingers were around the eye area, more so pressed than scratching." Evidence from Ulster physio Gareth Robinson suggested Marshall initially thought he had been gouged.
Robinson said: "On arriving Luke was holding his face and clearly reported to me that he had been 'gouged deliberately' in the eyes."
The suspension is a savage blow for Ashton, who had fought his way back into the England squad after falling out of favour under the previous regime because of his perceived defensive frailties.
New head coach Eddie Jones last week included him in his elite player squad for the Six Nations and Ashton, who has spent the previous 18 months in international exile, had been earmarked to start on the right wing against Scotland on February 6.
His absence robs England of their deadliest finisher - Ashton has crossed 19 times in 39 Test appearances with Ben Youngs the next highest on nine tries - and Jones will wait to see if Saracens appeal before calling in a replacement.