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Fuimaono-Sapolu given suspended ban

Gloucester centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu has received a six-month suspended ban after misconduct charges against him were upheld.

The 30-year-old Samoa international accused Welsh referee Nigel Owens of bias after Samoa's tournament-ending defeat against world champions South Africa 15 days ago, venting his feelings on Twitter.

He faced alleged breaches of the Rugby World Cup/International Rugby Board code of conduct at a hearing in Auckland on Saturday, which had already been postponed twice. Fuimaono-Sapolu's suspension was suspended for two years, pending three conditions.

These are that he makes a full and unconditional apology to Owens and unconditional retraction of any criticism of him; that he carries out minimum 100 hours' rugby community work in Samoa in support of the International Rugby Board's high performance programme within the next 12 months; and he attends and passes a recognised referee course within the next three months.

Appointed judicial officer, England's Judge Jeff Blackett, heard evidence from the player and his representatives at the hearing, which began with many Samoan rugby fans demonstrating their support for Fuimaono-Sapolu outside the central Auckland building.

Blackett determined that the comments made about Owens by Fuimaono-Sapolu "impugn his integrity and reputation, both as a referee and as a man." Blackett said he recognised the player might have been angry or emotional when making his initial comments via Twitter, but it did not justify his offensive behaviour towards the referee.

Contrary to the Fuimaono-Sapolu's submissions, Blackett said there was "absolutely no evidence that the referee was biased in the sense that he deliberately favoured one side or the other. To suggest that Nigel Owens is racist against Samoans is also completely inappropriate."

If the player fails to comply with any of the conditions imposed as part of his punishment - or he makes any public criticism which results in a proven misconduct offence regarding a match official, the IRB or the disciplinary process - the suspension will be activated immediately.

Fuimaono-Sapolu Tweeted after the hearing: "I do not want to play Rugby anymore. One thing is for sure, my children definitely wont be.

"I'm so grateful and so overwhelmed with the many people who were at the hearing today. Thank you beyond what my heart can give. Love you all."

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