World Cup relief for Cueto
Mark Cueto will be available for England's Rugby World Cup campaign - and the summer warm-up internationals - after he received a nine-week ban for gouging.
The Sale wing pleaded guilty to the charge of making contact with the eye or eye area of Northampton lock Christian Day during the Sharks' Aviva Premiership defeat on April 2. The Rugby Football Union's disciplinary panel judged Cueto's actions to have been a mid-range offence, which carries a recommended punishment of 18 weeks.
But that sanction was halved after Cueto delivered what the RFU described as "compelling mitigation". The ban was also back-dated to start on April 4, the day Cueto was handed a six-week internal suspension by Sale.
The club ban already guaranteed he would miss the remainder of the Premiership season - but it will have come as some relief to both Cueto and England manager Martin Johnson that his World Cup ambitions were not damaged.
Cueto started all nine of England's Tests this season and was a pivotal figure during their recent RBS 6 Nations title-winning campaign. Had the RFU panel not reduced the suspension by 50%, Cueto would have missed the first of England's three warm-up games in August.
As it is, Cueto will link up with England for their summer training camp on June 20 and he is available for the Tests against Wales, home and away, and Ireland.
England kick off their World Cup campaign against Argentina in Dunedin on September 10.
The incident occurred as Cueto and Day, who are former Sale team-mates, fought off the ball in the Premiership clash at Franklin's Gardens.
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."