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Saracens could appeal Chris Ashton's 10-week suspension

Published 20/01/2016

Chris Ashton will miss England's Six Nations campaign after being banned for 10 weeks for gouging during Saracens' European Champions Cup match against Ulster
Chris Ashton will miss England's Six Nations campaign after being banned for 10 weeks for gouging during Saracens' European Champions Cup match against Ulster

Saracens are considering whether to appeal the 10-week suspension that has ruled Chris Ashton out of England's entire RBS 6 Nations campaign.

Ashton has been banned from playing until March 28 after being found guilty of making contact with the eye or eye area of Ulster centre Luke Marshall in the first half of Saracens' 33-17 Champions Cup victory on Saturday.

The 28-year-old grabbed Marshall around the neck and pulled him to the ground with his hands sliding over the Ireland centre's face. Marshall complained about the contact and upon reviewing the incident, referee Jerome Garces awarded a penalty.

The citing officer subsequently lodged a complaint that has been upheld by an independent disciplinary hearing and Saracens have 72 hours until after the written judgement is received to decide whether to appeal.

It is a savage blow for Ashton, who had fought his way back into the England squad after falling out of favour under the previous regime because of his perceived defensive frailties.

New head coach Eddie Jones last week included him in his elite player squad for the Six Nations and Ashton, who has spent the previous 18 months in international exile, had been earmarked to start on the right wing against Scotland on February 6.

His absence robs England of their deadliest finisher - Ashton has crossed 19 times in 39 Test appearances with Ben Youngs the next highest on nine tries - and Jones will wait to see if Saracens appeal before calling in a replacement.

"I'm disappointed for him. Chris is a good player and he's been in good form," Jones told Sky Sports News.

"Players have these sorts of setbacks. I'm sure he's a good enough player to get over it, serve out his time if the suspension happens and then get back into it.

"He was so keen to get back into the international fold, so it's disappointing, but again it opens up an opportunity for another player.

"We've got a couple there that we'll look at and again we'll just have to see how the appeal goes."

Asked if he felt punishments for disciplinary problems were too harsh, Jones said: "The suspensions are there for a reason. When you're suspended you've just got to take it on the chin and get on with it."

Ashton is highly valued at Saracens where he has been a prolific try-scorer since arriving from Northampton in 2012 and is equally admired by Jones, who spoke in glowing terms when naming him in his first England squad last Wednesday.

"Chris is as mad as a cut snake. He plays with a lot of energy, he's emotional and he's a real winner to me. He scores tries," Jones said.

England assistant coach Paul Gustard highlighted his improving defensive game and backed his return for the Six Nations.

Ashton pleaded not guilty to the offence, but the independent hearing viewed the incident differently and a European Professional Club Rugby statement revealed that the suspension had been reduced from 13 to 10 weeks.

"In upholding the citing complaint, the Judicial Officer found that Ashton had committed an act of foul play that warranted a red card," the statement read.

"He determined that that offence was at the low end of World Rugby's sanctions and selected 12 weeks as the appropriate entry point.

"He added one week as a deterrent according to World Rugby's memorandum regarding offences of this nature, before reducing the sanction by three weeks due to Ashton's good character and good conduct at the hearing. He then imposed a suspension of 10 weeks."

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