Haskell banned for three matches

2012-05-02 00:00

ENGLAND Test loose forward James Haskell will miss the Super Rugby outing against the Sharks at King’s Park on Saturday after he was yesterday banned for three matches for punching an opponent.

It was found that Haskell was retaliating to being held, in the euphemistic words of the judicial officer, “in a particularly sensitive area,” and he was yellow-carded (and later cited) for throwing two punches.

The Highlanders staged a remarkable comeback against the Cheetahs to turn a 21-point deficit into a 36-33 win but, according to yesterday’s ruling, Haskell should have been red-carded instead of being sin-binned by referee Marius Jonker for punching.

Haskell was cited after the game and pleaded guilty to twice striking his Cheetahs opponent — former Sharks flank Justin Downey — late in the first-half in Bloemfontein. Judicial officer Mike Heron suspended him for three games and he will miss the Highlanders’ matches against the Sharks in Durban, the Hurricanes and Bulls.

Downey received stitches for a gash on his eyebrow following the incident.

“There were two punches as described in the citing in a very short timeframe, at least the second of which appeared to connect forcefully, and one or other must have caused the injury to the Cheetahs player,” Heron said in his judgment.

“I accept that Haskell was responding to provocation in that he was being held into the dissembling scrum and it appeared that he was being grabbed in a particularly sensitive area.

“In the circumstances I find that the conduct was intentional, repeated and dangerous, but in the context of what appeared to be significant provocation.

“The injury to the player and the repeated punches are an aggravating factor which warrant an increase of one week in my view, making a penalty of six weeks suspension.

“In mitigation, Haskell immediately accepted his conduct was unacceptable. He apologised to the Cheetahs player and to me. Haskell has a very impressive record over a period of approximately 10 years of professional rugby.

“I was told that he has no previous citings and has received only a single yellow card in his professional career [which was not for foul play].

“To recognise and acknowledge the immediate guilty plea, his impressive record and the sincere remorse shown, I am prepared to reduce the sanction by a period of three weeks, resulting in an ultimate sanction of three weeks,” said Heron.

Meanwhile, Sharks coach John Plumtree said he had been highly impressed by the Highlanders’ revival against the Cheetahs.

“They are very aggressive at the breakdown and I thought [referee] Marius Jonker penalised them pretty hard for going off their feet which was pleasing to see. I hope we’ll see that again this weekend. If they counter-ruck, they have to stay on their feet.

“The referee was also hard on them for slowing down possession and once that area of the game was sorted out, we saw an open game of rugby with a lot of points scored. So we’re hoping Steve Walsh [the referee at King’s Park on Saturday] will also be tough in that area on the weekend.”

Plumtree paid tribute to the courage of the Highlanders in fighting back from a seemingly hopeless position.

“They are a very courageous side and, even though they had a bit of luck in Bloem, the win showed that they are a quality side. To travel all the way to South Africa from New Zealand to win their first game up takes a big effort and shows what a quality, tight-knit unit they are.”

Plumtree said he was a good friend of Jamie Joseph, the successful Highlanders coach.

“We coached together at Wellington. I know how he handles a team and you can see his influence there. His coaching is based on team culture, a tightness in the group and playing for each other. They are pretty similar to the Chiefs in many ways.”

Saturday’s game at King’s Park kicks off at 5.05 pm.

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