Simon Devereux, the Gloucester forward, has been jailed for nine months after being found guilty at Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court of causing grievous bodily harm during a Second XV match last season between Gloucester and Rosslyn Park at Roehampton.
Devereux was found guilty of punching James Cowie, the Park captain and No 8, causing a double fracture of the jaw with a single punch. The court heard that Cowie had to have three plates and pins inserted in his jaw and spent five days in hospital after the incident on 25 February last year. He was unable to play again until October.
Devereux, 27, a production engineer for Lucas Industries in Cheltenham, has no history of on-field violence during a seven-year playing career at Kingsholm, in which he has made 68 first-team appearances.
The timing of the case is particularly significant as Gloucester entertain Wasps in the quarter-final of the Pilkington Cup tomorrow, but Richard Hill, Kingsholm's director of coaching, insisted the squad, while upset at Devereux's sentence, were focusing on the tie.
Last night, his family and Gloucester officials were said to be in a state of shock, and it is almost certain that Devereux will appeal against what appears to be an unusually harsh sentence for a crime which has a number of precedents to which a court can refer.
The most recent example of a rugby player being jailed for on-field violence was that of the Wales international hooker Nigel Meek, who was imprisoned for six months last September after being found guilty of fracturing an opponent's jaw in a Fire Services cup match last season.
The former France captain and No 8 Laurent Rodriguez was found guilty of a similar offence to that of Devereux and Meek in 1994, but escaped imprisonment and instead had to pay a pounds 700 fine. In the same year, William Hardy was cleared of manslaughter by an Old Bailey jury after claiming that the punch which killed an opponent was thrown in self-defence.
There has been on-field violence in other sports, most notably when footballer Duncan Ferguson - then with Rangers - was recently found guilty of head- butting an opponent during a Scottish League match last year. Ferguson, now with Everton, was jailed for three months for the offence.
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