MUNSTER will be without Lifeimi Mafi for the first two rounds of their Heineken Cup campaign after the centre was banned for seven weeks yesterday for a dangerous tackle on Leinster's Gordon D'Arcy.
The suspension, up to and including Sunday, November 21, sees Mafi ruled out of Saturday's Heineken Cup clash with London Irish in Reading and the following week's meeting with Toulon at Thomond Park -- as well as ruling him out of three Magners League matches against Treviso, Ulster and the Scarlets.
It means Mafi will not be available to play again until the Dragons take on Munster at Musgrave Park on Friday, November 26. Mafi was cited under both law 10.4 (e) for an alleged dangerous tackle and 10.4 (a) for allegedly punching or striking D'Arcy in the 19th minute of last weekend's Magners League match at Lansdowne Road.
After a disciplinary hearing in Belfast yesterday, chaired by Hugh Logan, who was assisted by Stephen Hilditch and Ian McIlrath, Mafi was deemed guilty of a dangerous tackle, with his previous disciplinary record taken into account before the seven-week ban was imposed. The player has the right to an appeal.
Although losing the New Zealand-born Tongan is a big blow for coach Tony McGahan, there is a chance that Keith Earls could slot straight into Mafi's centre position, after the 23-year-old took a full part in yesterday's training session in Limerick.
Earls has yet to play this season, having injured his ankle in a pre-season training session and his return would be a massive boost for Munster as they face into two massive weekends of European rugby.
McGahan also has the option of moving Johne Murphy into midfield and bringing Denis Hurley onto the left wing. Scrum-half Tomas O'Leary did not train after taking a blow to his hand against Leinster, with Duncan Williams brought into the squad as a precautionary measure.