Sale Sharks winger Chris Ashton, who is a new signing for the club this season, was sent off in Sale’s ugly 20-17 victory over Castres. The winger/fullback was cited for a tip tackle on Castres scrum-half Rory Kockott and the incident ascended into a mass brawl resulting in both players being shown red by referee Romain Poite.
Subsequently Ashton has been banned for 7 weeks and will miss Sale’s Premiership opener away to Harlequins at the Stoop as well as other big games for the club such as their away fixture to Exeter Chiefs and their clash at the AJ Bell with wasps.
Ashton, (now 31) who is looking to reignite his England career, only managed to force his way back into the fold for the first time under Eddie Jones this month. Jones picked the winger for a training camp after he moved back to the Premiership following a two-year stint at French side Toulon. On top of missing games for his club, the ban will inhibit Ashton from showcasing his skills to England coach Eddie Jones which will decrease his chance of selection.
“He’s come back to England because he wants to play for England so he has got the right desire and the right attitude” said Jones, but it would be interesting to know what has changed in the coaches mind since the incident.
Independent panel chair Richard Whittam QC said:
“It is an important principle of rugby regulation to prevent injury to others; provocation is not a defence to foul play and lifting a player and dropping that player such that his head makes contact with the ground has the potential to cause serious injury.”
Speaking prior to the verdict, Sale boss Steve Diamond defended Ashton’s actions by saying:
“I’d take a red card for any other Sale player if they defended themselves the way Chris Ashton did, if you’re defending yourself on a rugby pitch when things go on and are over and above what we expect, then red mist doesn’t come into it.”