Afoa out of semi-final showdown as Ulster accept ban
ULSTER are resigned to being without World Cup-winning prop John Afoa for their Heineken Cup semi-final showdown with Edinburgh on April 28, after the province decided not to appeal the four-week ban handed down to the All Black yesterday.
Afoa was cited for a dangerous tackle on Munster full-back Felix Jones during Ulster's Heineken Cup quarter-final victory in Thomond Park last weekend and was given a four-week suspension at a disciplinary meeting in Dublin yesterday.
He will be free to play again from May 7 but misses the European semi-final as well as three Pro12 matches, against Connacht, Munster and Leinster. Afoa, who pleaded not guilty, was accompanied to the hearing by Ulster's director of rugby David Humphreys, team manager David Millar and legal representative Donal Spring.
While neither the referee nor the touch judges had signalled any wrongdoing at the time of the incident, citing officer Peter Larter of England found that the offence warranted a red card under Law 10.4(j) which states: "lifting a player from the ground and either dropping or driving that player's head and/or upper body into the ground whilst the player's feet are off the ground".
The French official also determined that Afoa's tackle was at the mid-range entry point of six weeks, and he added on a further week as a deterrent but factored in mitigating factors such as the Afoa's exemplary record and reduced the ban to four weeks.
Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin has several options at tight-head: Adam Macklin or Declan Fitzpatrick could slot directly in, or Tom Court could be moved across from loose-head for tomorrow's Pro12 clash against Connacht in the Sportsground.
Former Ulster captain Willie Anderson was disappointed by the decision, but still believes the province can reach the final by beating Edinburgh.
"I wasn't expecting anything like that," said Anderson. "I thought that if there had been anything in it the referee would have pinged him at the time.
"But I still think they should be okay against Edinburgh, provided they don't beat themselves. Afoa is a loss, but if Ulster focus on the job in hand they should still win that semi-final."