Munster appeal

Club await ERC's written judgment on O'Connell's ban

IRELAND'S talismanic second row Paul O'Connell was handed a four-week ban yesterday but Munster are likely to appeal the suspension, despite the ERC's ruling that he deliberately struck Ospreys forward Jonathan Thomas in last Sunday's Heineken Cup clash at Thomond Park.

Munster manager Shaun Payne expressed disappointment with the outcome, but said they would wait to receive the written judgment before deciding on an appeal.

O'Connell was hit with a five-week ban -- reduced to four weeks due to his good disciplinary record -- after the ERC deemed that the offence rated among the mid-range level of seriousness for an offence of this type.

Munster had challenged this contention and believed that a yellow card would have been more appropriate for what they perceived to be merely a careless effort to detach himself from a player who was tugging his jersey.

O'Connell will miss the return Ospreys match in the Liberty Stadium this weekend. He will also miss Munster's trip to the Sportsground to face Connacht on St Stephen's Day and further Magners League games against Ulster (January 1) and Glasgow Warriors (January 8).

Had he received the heaviest suspension possible, he could have been in danger of missing the rest of Munster's Heineken Cup pool games and Ireland's Six Nations opener with Italy.

However, after just returning from eight months on the sidelines, the month-long ban will still afford him little preparation for Munster's potentially crucial round-five Heineken Cup visit to Toulon.

The ERC have the right to increase a suspension during the appeals process so Munster, despite being optimistic about receiving just a two-week ban before yesterday's Dublin hearing, must weigh up their options carefully when they receive the written judgment next week.

"After hearing submissions from both parties and considering the evidence, the independent Judicial Officer, HHJ Jeff Blackett (England) upheld the red card and determined that the act had been deliberate, but that there had been no intention to injure Mr Thomas," said an ERC statement.

"The independent Judicial Officer found that the offence was in the mid range (entry point: five weeks) of the level of seriousness for an offence of this type.

"Having taken into account any mitigating factors, such as Mr O'Connell's good disciplinary record, the independent Judicial Officer reduced the suspension from the entry point by one (1) week which resulted in the final suspension of four (4) weeks. Mr O'Connell will be free to play from January 10, 2011."

Meanwhile, Paul Warwick appears to have upped the ante in his contract negotiations with Munster after reports in France suggested that he had already penned a three-year deal with Michael Cheika's Stade Francais.