NIK SIMON: RFU made the right call by overturning Chris Ashton’s red card but the archaic disciplinary system may still rob the Leicester winger of one final farewell in the play-offs
- Chris Ashton was cleared for Leicester’s play-off semi-final against Sale
- The winger had his red card reduced to a yellow following a disciplinary hearing
- However, uncertainty over his availability could mean he doesn’t start on Sunday
Few will begrudge Chris Ashton being cleared to fight another day but the delay in reaching a decision may well rob him of his farewell opportunity.
Leicester will have been preparing their combinations for the play-off against Sale since Sunday morning so uncertainty throughout the week could have cost him his chance.
It is a reflection of rugby’s slowmoving and archaic systems, with the disciplinary hearing pushed back to accommodate the bank holiday and Wednesday night’s Premiership awards. Ashton was invited to attend the black-tie dinner to pick up a special award but he was pulled out to prepare for a potential hearing.
In a hotly contested Leicester back three, the Premiership’s scoring sensation may well have been timed out of the running to start against Sale at the AJ Bell Stadium. And he will no doubt be rolling his eyes at the process.
Another week, another rescinded red card. Rugby’s referees are lost in a deep grey area of uncertainty around player safety. High tackles are dividing opinion every weekend.
Chris Ashton has been cleared for Leicester’s Premiership play-off semi-final against Sale
The Leicester winger had his red card reduced to a yellow following a disciplinary hearing
The consensus was that Ashton’s sending off was harsh, so many will feel that justice has been served.
It would have been a sorry end for his career to be determined by a disciplinary hearing and it seems that even Cadan Murley, who was on the receiving end of the high tackle, agreed.
In a surprising twist, Thursday night’s RFU report revealed that Murley has defended the former England star in a five-hour hearing.
The statement said: ‘The panel also had the benefit of hearing from Mr Murley. Having seen and heard all the evidence, including that of Mr Murley, who gave a clear account as to the point of contact and the level of force involved in the tackle, the panel agreed with the submission that this was a yellow card offence.’
Ashton, more than anyone, will be crossing his fingers that Leicester beat Sale and progress to the Premiership final. At the age of 36, his body is just about holding together for one final farewell.
The winger has been one of the league’s great entertainers over the years, becoming the first and only player to score 100 tries, dominating highlight reels with his Ash Splash celebration.
And it feels fitting that he has the chance to sign off with a moment of magic on the pitch, rather than being marched out by the disciplinary whip.
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