Chris Ashton to miss England's Six Nations as 10-week ban appeal is rejected
Chris Ashton says he is "incredibly disappointed" after an independent appeal committee decided not to allow an appeal against a 10-week suspension that means he cannot play again until late March.
European Professional Club Rugby announced the committee's decision, and Saracens wing Ashton's hopes of playing for England in the RBS 6 Nations Championship this season are now over.
Ashton was banned after being cited for making contact with an opponent's eye during a European Champions Cup match between Saracens and Ulster last month. Ashton will be free to play again on March 28.
In a statement released by Saracens, Ashton said: "I am incredibly disappointed with today's decision, but I now plan to look ahead to the rest of the season and work as hard as I can during my ban.
"I would like to thank Saracens and my legal team for all their hard work and support throughout this.
"I vehemently maintain that I have never made an attempt to intentionally make contact with the eye area of any other player.
"To miss out on the chance to represent my country and Saracens during this period is extremely disappointing, but the judgement stands and it is one that I will respect and accept."
EPCR said: "An independent appeal committee has today (Thursday) announced its decision not to allow an appeal by the Saracens player, Chris Ashton, against the 10-week suspension imposed on him as a result of a citing complaint arising from his club's European Rugby Champions Cup round five match against Ulster Rugby on Saturday, January 16.
"Ashton's suspension therefore remains in place, and he is free to play on Monday, 28 March, 2016.
"The appeal committee consisting of Lorne Crerar (Scotland), chairman, Rod McKenzie (Scotland) and Roger Morris (Wales), heard the player's appeal in London yesterday before adjourning to give the matter further consideration.
"At last month's disciplinary hearing, the independent judicial officer, Jean-Noel Couraud (France), found that Ashton had committed an act of foul play that warranted a red card in that the player had made contact with the eye(s) and/or eye area of the Ulster Rugby centre, Luke Marshall, during the match at Allianz Park in contravention of Law 10.4 (m)."
Ashton pulled Marshall to the ground with his left arm in the first half of the game, while also grabbing the Ireland international's face with his right hand.
The judicial officer viewed the tackle as a red-card offence that exposed Marshall to the risk of serious injury, but Saracens contended that 10 weeks was too severe a punishment for the incident.
Saracens said on Thursday that they are disappointed with the decision not to allow the appeal to overturn Ashton's suspension.
And the club's rugby director Mark McCall added: "The club has been fully supportive of Chris throughout this process and wanted to ensure that everything possible was done to support his case.
"Saracens and Chris are obviously disappointed by the ramifications of today's news, but we now have to accept this decision.
"We are thankful to the appeal committee for considering Chris's case and for the opportunity to put his case forward.
"Chris now plans to work hard during this enforced time away from playing to ensure that after his suspension he can perform well for Saracens and help the club to a successful season."
Ashton's impressive club form had seemingly put him on track for a Test recall this term, with England opening their Six Nations campaign against Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday.
The 28-year-old has not represented England since June 2014, having scored 19 tries in 39 Tests, and that wait will now continue.
Bath's Anthony Watson and Exeter's Jack Nowell are the wings chosen by new England head coach Eddie Jones to start in Edinburgh.
This season's Six Nations ends on March 19, nine days before Ashton can play again, although he will be available for Saracens' Champions Cup quarter-final against Northampton on April 9.