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Cueto hit with nine-week ban

England wing Mark Cueto has been banned for nine weeks after pleading guilty to "making contact with the eye or eye area" of Northampton lock Christian Day.

Cueto's ban has been back-dated to start on April 4, the day he was handed a six-week internal suspension by his club Sale Sharks. The Rugby Football Union's disciplinary panel judged Cueto's actions to have been a mid-range offence, which carries a punishment of 18 weeks.

But that sanction was halved after Cueto delivered what the RFU described as "compelling mitigation". The nine-week suspension means Cueto will be available for England's Rugby World Cup warm-up Tests in August and the tournament, which begins against Argentina on September 10.

Cueto, a pivotal figure during England's recent RBS 6 Nations title-winning campaign, was cited after Sale's 53-24 defeat to Northampton at Franklin's Gardens on April 2.

The incident occurred as Cueto and Day, who are former Sale team-mates, fought off the ball in the build-up to the Sharks' second try, scored by Wame Lewaravu.

Television footage showed Cueto placing his hand on Day's face, with his fingers seemingly bent like a claw. Cueto did not contest the charge, known colloquially as gouging.

When Sale imposed their own suspension, director of sport Steve Diamond said: "Mark let the club and his team-mates down, and he is very upset that he has done so."

The club ban already guaranteed Cueto would miss the remainder of the season Aviva Premiership season but it will have come as some relief that his World Cup ambitions were not wrecked as well.

Had the panel not reduced the suspension by 50%, Cueto would have been banned until August 8 and missed England`s first warm-up game with Wales.

As it is, Cueto will link up with England for their summer training camp on June 20 ahead of the August internationals against Wales, home and away, and Ireland.

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