Rugby-Wales captain Warburton banned for three weeks

Reuters

Sun, 16 Oct 12:02:00 2011

(Writes through with reaction and quotes)

* Warburton to miss third-fourth playoff

* IRB reiterate 'zero tolerance'

* Referees manager gives Rolland full backing

Welsh captain Sam Warburton was banned for three weeks on Sunday for the dangerous tackle that earned him a red card in Wales's rugby World Cup semi-final defeat to France.

The 23-year-old was dismissed by referee Alain Rolland for the tackle on winger Vincent Clerc inside the first quarter of Saturday's match at Eden Park, which the French edged 9-8 despite a brave performance from the Welsh.

Warburton, who has 48 hours to appeal, was handed the punishment after a disciplinary hearing and will miss Friday's third and fourth place playoff against Australia who on Sunday lost to New Zealand in their semi-final.

"The independent judicial officer ... determined the ordering off to be appropriate in law and the action in line with IRB directives," read a statement issued by tournament organisers.

Warburton admitted the offence, the statement added, and had avoided a more lengthy ban because of mitigating circumstances, including his "outstanding character, disciplinary record and remorse".

NO MALICE

Wales coach Warren Gatland and many of his team had condemned the dismissal as excessive for a tackle Warburton maintained was not malicious, suggesting that a yellow card and 10 minutes in the sin-bin would have been more appropriate.

Spear or tip tackling, where a player lifts an opponent into the air and returns them to the ground head first, is outlawed because of the potential for head injuries.

The governing International Rugby Board (IRB) issued a statement on Sunday reiterating their "zero tolerance" on dangerous tackles.

Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards told reporters on Sunday he felt consideration should be given to intent in such matters.

"It was not deliberate what Sam did," he said. "I have seen it deliberate where you put your hand underneath, lift him and spin him, and I have had it done to myself and it is horrible.

"You know it is deliberate when you see someone put the hand underneath the crotch and spin him around and drop him to the floor and basically follow on yourself."

ROLLAND GETS BACKING

Edwards said Warburton's size and strength had caused the tackle to look worse than it was.

"With Sam, it was a dominant hit as you expect. He was much more powerful than the guy he tackled and he ended up in a position that got him sent off. I am not sure if the rest of the officials thought the same way," said Edwards.

IRB Referees Manager Paddy O'Brien later gave Rolland his full backing.

"(The decision) was absolutely correct in law and in keeping with the clear instructions that match officials have received in recent years regarding dangerous tackling," O'Brien said in a statement.

"Alain is a highly experienced referee and had a clear view of the incident, which enabled him to make an accurate and instant decision.

"Player welfare is paramount and unions, teams and match officials are all aware of the responsibility to eradicate dangerous play."

Welsh Rugby Union Group Chief Executive Roger Lewis said the body "respects the process which has been followed and understands the disciplinary procedures in place.

"The WRU further wishes to state its unequivocal support for Sam Warburton as a role model and exemplary captain who has led Wales to formidable success in the competition so far."

The playoff between the losers of the two semi-finals, which will take place on Friday, is usually a match which has little appeal for fans and players alike.

Having exceeded expectations with their run to the semi-finals, however, many of the Wales players said they would be taking the game very seriously, while Warburton said his focus this week would be to support his team from the sidelines.

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