England wing Chris Ashton, no stranger to controversy over the last few months, was the big loser yesterday following a mass trial of those involved in the punch-up that enlivened last weekend's Premiership derby between Leicester and Northampton.
Ashton sparked the incident by dragging his direct opponent, Alesana Tuilagi, into touch by the hair -- a highly visible offence, given the extravagant nature of the Samoan's coiffure -- and was banned for a month.
Ashton will miss Northampton's back-to-back Heineken Cup meetings with Castres -- games they must win to retain a realistic hope of making the knockout phase of the tournament -- plus Premiership games against Bath and Newcastle.
Tuilagi, who was sent off for his contribution to the free-for-all, escaped further punishment, the Rugby Football Union's chief disciplinary officer Judge Jeff Blackett deeming the red card a sufficient penalty.
A second Northampton international, the England captaincy contender Tom Wood, also appeared before the judge, having been dismissed along with Tuilagi.
He too was spared further grief and can continue playing. So can a fistful of other participants: Leicester backs Geordan Murphy and Horacio Agulla, and Northampton forward Courtney Lawes. They were effectively given a retrospective yellow card and granted permission to carry on regardless.
Having denied the charge, Ashton was told that his behaviour had been unacceptable.
"We accept that this started by accident, but it became clear that at some stage Ashton knew what he was doing," Blackett concluded. "If you pull somebody by the hair there is an element of denigration and this act was a catalyst for a mass brawl."
Ahead of the hearings, Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill had been typically frank.
"It (the game) was a classic," he said. "Yes, we saw some fisticuffs, but we can't sanitise the game too much by pulling guys off the field when their crimes are far from horrendous." (© Independent News Service)