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Six Nations are over for Jerry

Ireland's Jerry Flannery will miss the rest of the RBS Six Nations championship after being banned for six weeks for his wild kick on France winger Alexis Palisson.

Flannery pleaded guilty at an independent disciplinary hearing in Dublin yesterday morning and will miss Ireland's remaining fixtures against England, Wales and Scotland.

The Munster hooker admitted he had deserved a red card for the extraordinary hack, which forced Palisson out of the game with a dead leg after only 23 minutes.

Flannery escaped any severe sanction at the time because the touch judge, Stuart Terheege, believed the challenge had been a "shoulder charge".

The disciplinary panel found Flannery had been reckless but not deliberate in his actions and decided the offence was mid-range in its severity.

Flannery's plea and the remorse he showed for Palisson's injury persuaded the panel to reign the suspension back from a potential eight weeks.

The ban runs until March 29, which means Flannery will be available for Munster's Magners League game against Leinster and their Heineken Cup quarter-final against Northampton on April 10.

The Irish Rugby Union are waiting for the full written judgment before deciding whether to take any further action. In the absence of a successful appeal, Flannery is likely to be replaced by Ulster hooker Rory Best for the crunch game against England at Twickenham a week on Saturday.

Best is a strong set-piece exponent and was in the running for a place on the Lions tour this summer but the loss of Flannery is a blow nevertheless as Ireland look to pick up the pieces of their shattered Grand Slam defence.

Meanwhile, England manager Martin Johnson today launched a vigorous defence of Jonny Wilkinson and blasted critics for working to their own agenda.

Wilkinson's position at fly-half has come under scrutiny following England's uninspiring 17-12 victory over Italy on Sunday.

England's World Cup-winning scrum-half Matt Dawson claimed Wilkinson's inability to manage a game and react to situations off the cuff is being exposed without experienced decision makers around him.

Johnson insisted that no player is undroppable but said the whole team must take responsibility for England's disappointing performance.

"I don't agree with the criticism. Jonny missed a few kicks and suddenly everyone is calling for his head, which I find pretty disappointing and surprising," Johnson said.

"No one is undroppable, but is it Jonny's fault we didn't convert our line breaks? No, it's a team thing.

"It has become the vogue to have a pop at Jonny. It is not always right or fair and I think some people are using it for their own agenda."

Wilkinson, 30, has only ever been dropped twice by England, for Paul Grayson in the 1999 World Cup and Danny Cipriani in the 2008 Six Nations.

And despite stating that no player is guaranteed his England place, Johnson gave no indication he is planning a change at fly-half.


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