England's Ashton gets four-week ban

by Staff Writer

England's Chris Ashton was banned for four weeks from all rugby on Tuesday for pulling the hair of Leicester's Alesana Tuilagi during Northampton's Premiership defeat by the Tigers on Saturday.

Ashton, who was punished by a disciplinary panel for "acts contrary to good sportsmanship," will be free to play again on January 4 - a month before England begin the defence of their Six Nations title.

The incident took place in the first half of a fiery East Midlands derby won 30-25 by Leicester at their Welford Road home and sparked a touchline brawl.

Tuilagi and Northampton flanker Tom Wood were sent off but a disciplinary panel found the red cards they had received for striking were sufficient punishment and both can continue to play.

Judge Jeff Blackett, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) disciplinary officer, said: "We accepted that this started by accident but it became clear that at some stage Chris Ashton knew what he was doing.

"If you pull somebody by the hair there is an element of denigration and this act was a catalyst for a mass brawl that resulted in two red cards and significantly affected the image of the game."

Ashton, who was ordered to pay STG500 ($A765) in costs, will now miss Northampton's back-to-back European Cup fixtures against Castres and two Premiership games over the festive period.

This is not the first time in recent months that Ashton has been involved in unwanted publicity, having been one of the players pictured drinking in England's infamous night out during the World Cup in Queenstown.

Ashton has 48 hours from receiving the judgement in which to appeal.

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