Six-week ban for Taione

2008-04-08 00:00

TONGAN Epi Taione yesterday received a six week suspension for head-butting Hurricanes player Jeremy Thrush in their Super 14 match on Saturday.

Appearing at a hearing in Christchurch yesterday following Monday’s postponement, Sanzar judicial officer Nicholas Davidson QC described Taione’s action as “grossly reckless”.

However, in passing sentence, the significant role he played in raising funds for the financially ailing Tongan side at the Rugby World Cup was also taken into consideration.

Taione was represented by counsel Richard McIlraith and Sharks coach Dick Muir and told the hearing he was clearing out Thrush who was impeding the rolling maul. They maintained that his action was legitimate but too high in its execution.

Taione expressed remorse at his actions, explaining that he had not intended striking Thrush on and with the head and as such, it was more properly categorised as a reckless act.

He will be available to the Sharks for the knock-out stages; he is eligible to return only after the final pool match of the tournament.

However, the Sharks will have to put this all behind them as they search for a seventh win this season. Their previous best run of form was achieved last year when they won six on the trot and then lost to the Brumbies.

In 2001, the previous occasion they contested the final, they enjoyed a run of five wins before controversially losing 25-26 to the Cats. They ended the round stages two points behind eventual winners the Brumbies, and victory in Bloemfontein would have seen them contest the final at home.

This year, they enjoyed a run of six consecutive victories before drawing last week to the Hurricanes, and so boast their best-ever start to the competition. The Highlanders had not won a match going into last week’s encounter with the Lions, but eventually pulled out the stops and will be riding an air of confidence, while the Sharks will need to put the disappointment of drawing a match they could have won behind them — as well as the Taione saga — and give a noteworthy performance against the side from Dunedin.

Captain Johann Muller has come out fighting ahead of Friday’s clash against the Highlanders, admitting that they simply have to lift their game.

“To me, we were 10 points better than the Hurricanes,” he said. “In the change room afterwards, it was if there had been a death in the family.

“We knew we had let that one slip and that once again we had not played anywhere near our potential. We resolved there and then, before the sweat had dried, to fix it this week.”

Heavy rain is once again predicted, but the Sharks do possess the kicking game for wet conditions, and while the Highlanders rely on individual brilliance to spark something, the Sharks have generally been workmanlike in their approach: a team working hard for the collective good.

But they need to put recent events behind them and write a new chapter — the Highlanders match is where it all starts.

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