WATCH - Chris Ashton could be hit with 10-game ban if biting claim is proven
Chris Ashton is likely to be cited on Monday for allegedly biting Northampton prop Alex Waller, with the Saracens and England winger expected to face a minimum 10-week ban if found guilty of the offence.
The incident occurred in the first half of an incident-packed and fiercely physical match at Allianz Park on Saturday, which Saracens won 27-12. Waller complained immediately to referee Greg Garner.
Does Ashton bite Waller? pic.twitter.com/EbVYjFlOBH— RugbyInsideLine (@RugbyInsideLine) September 17, 2016
The low-entry point for the suspension is 12 weeks, a mid-range offence 18 weeks and the top end starts at 24 weeks, any of which would leave Ashton in danger of not playing for the Premiership and European champions again this year.
However, Ashton was banned for 10 weeks last season for making contact with the eyes of an opponents – another offence which has a low-entry point of 12 weeks – and may have his sentence reduced again if he is found guilty. The Daily Telegraph understands the disciplinary process is set to start today.
Amid the controversy there was also considerable concern for Northampton’s Luther Burrell, who suffered a nasty injury late in the second half, as he appeared to be knocked out when his head hit Brad Barritt’s hip in an attempted tackle. He was given lengthy treatment and was eventually led from the field rather than being taken off on a stretcher.
“He’s up and chatting in the changing room now,” said Jim Mallinder, Northampton’s director of rugby, before Burrell was worryingly seen being given oxygen as he was taken to hospital in an ambulance.
Thankfully he was not detained in hospital overnight and tweeted: “Head and body are sore but I’m OK. Thanks for messages and support, I can’t remember the game, heard it was a cracker.”
Matches between these two generally produce something explosive (Dylan Hartley missed the last World Cup because of a butt on Jamie George in one such game) and so this latest chapter turned on a yellow card for Waller after a dangerous a tackle on George, a “moment of madness”, according to Mallinder.
It cost his side dearly, with Saracens going from 12-9 down to 21-12 up, with two tries, one from George and the other a penalty try, in Waller’s absence. Waller himself could face a citing.
It allowed Saracens to express their class, with the likes of Schalk Burger, Jim Hamilton and the Vunipola brothers, Billy and Mako, outstanding.
But they had been under serious pressure from Northampton’s maniacal commitment, with the score locked at 9-9 at half-time despite Saracens having the benefit of the strong wind and Louis Picamoles at his muscular best for the visitors, even if Teimana Harrison, keen to impress the watching Eddie Jones, was not especially conspicuous before departing with a shoulder injury.
“We were second-best in the first half,” said Saracens director of rugby, Mark McCall. “We allowed some things to get under our skin a little bit. Their line speed was tremendous, and we couldn’t get any quick ball.”
But Saracens seized their opportunity and actually won the second half 18-3. “In the second half we did a phenomenal job,” said McCall. “The most encouraging thing today was that we found a way to win while not being at our best.”
Absolutely in his element was Burger. The huge South African flanker was signed by Saracens for days like this. “He was absolutely tremendous,” said McCall. “In some respects the more physical the game, the more competitive the game, the more he likes it and enjoys it.” Understandably Burger preferred to focus on the collective.
“A physical game suits this group of individuals,” he said. “I have only been here recently but the guys really seem to respond to being challenged in difficult circumstances. It is a good attribute to have and I guess in a perfect world we will look at the performance and be quite critical.”
It was one of the most physical matches seen in the Aviva Premiership, a league renowned for its physicality, for some time, but Burger and his team-mates had been primed for that.
“Obviously we didn’t leave anything to chance in the week,” he said. “It’s the first time I have played against the Saints but just from the videos we were shown in the week we knew there was going to be a huge intensity – that is what they pride themselves on.”