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Ulster Rugby: Careless sending off may be Tom Court's final act in white shirt

By Niall Crozier

Published 09/05/2014

Banned: Tom Court has been hit with a suspension until May 18
Banned: Tom Court has been hit with a suspension until May 18

Tom Court will be able to play if Ulster reach the RaboDirect PRO12 final on May 31. But if they fail to do so, the 33-year-old London Irish-bound loose-head has played his last game for the province.

At yesterday's hearing by an independent three-man PRO12 disciplinary committee in Neath, the prop forward's dismissal for a 'lifting' tackle on Leinster's Devin Toner last Friday night was found to be at the low end of the IRB's scale of sanctions for this type of offence.

Having viewed footage of the incident and listened to representations by, and on behalf of, the player via video-link, chairman Simon Thomas, Terry Vaux and Robert Williams took account of Court's acceptance of the red card and his previous excellent disciplinary record in suspending him until midnight on Sunday, May 18. The player has the right of appeal.

Court's dismissal has given rise to different interpretations in the Ulster camp. Defence coach Jonny Bell, said: "The decision, the red card, I felt was the right one. As soon as you lift a player's hips above his head it is perceived by the referee to be driving him into the ground.

"Tommy would say himself that it was just a little bit careless. There was no malice or intent on his part at all – he's not that type of player – but he gave the referee the opportunity to make that decision.

"If you lift hips above the head, you're in danger. There was no intent, but I see that as more of a red than Jared Payne against Saracens. I didn't think that was a red; that's my opinion.

"The players know that if they put a referee in that position, then he's under pressure with the current laws, media scrutiny and the perception of players being driven down on their necks.

"My point is that you're forcing the referee to make a big decision. As soon as your elbow is up and your opponent's legs and hips are above his head, you're putting massive doubt in the referee's mind; is the decision going to be a yellow card or a red card?

"The scrutiny on those tackles and the media opinion on them at the minute means you're putting yourself in danger of that decision going against you."

But lock forward Dan Tuohy said: "I think the red card was a little bit harsh; I think a yellow would have sufficed.

"When you think how big Dev is, Tom didn't really drive him into the ground. But when you take someone above the vertical, unfortunately you do then leave it in someone else's hands and as players we're aware of that.

"There haven't been too many complaints from us because we got the point we needed out of the game which meant it didn't have a massive impact on our season; it didn't lead to us not getting a home semi or anything like that.

"But I thought red was a harsh decision."

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