Mason hit with ban for punching GB's Fielden

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The Independent Online

The passer-by outside the New South Wales leagues club spoke for a nation. "Leave Willie alone, you faggots,'' he shouted as the media scrum formed to greet Australia's most notorious rugby league player.

Willie Mason had just been suspended for one match of the Tri-Nations tournament for the punch that flattened Great Britain's Stuart Fielden in Saturday's match, also in Sydney. That means he is out of the game between the two countries in Brisbane on 18 November, but will be available against Great Britain or New Zealand in the final a week later.

In a hearing that was sometimes more Perry Mason than Willie Mason, the Kangaroo forward said he had acted in self-defence after an exchange of insults with Fielden.

"He moved towards me and I thought he was going to throw a punch,'' Mason said. "I saw his hand cocked and I thought I'd hit him before he hit me.'' Mason said he was disappointed by the verdict, and he was considering an appeal, but he was looking forward to playing in the final.

Medical evidence presented to the three-man panel revealed that Fielden was suffering from concussion as well as a broken nose. "I got caught sweet and what's done is done,'' said Fielden. "I don't think there's any bad blood.''

Others in the Great Britain camp were less philosophical. "I thought it was a cheap shot. Stuart Fielden's arms were by his sides,'' said the British coach Brian Noble.

Mason, despite a chequered record in the game, has never been sent off in 20 Tests for Australia and the panel said that his previous good character had been taken into account.

Noble said Fielden will definitely play against New Zealand in Wellington this Saturday. "He's taking it the best way he can,'' Noble said of the damage to his star prop. "He's very focused on his own performance. Even to have kept on playing after having his marbles scrambled means he's done well.''

Noble is less certain about Brian Carney, who came off in Sydney with a recurrence of a hamstring injury. "He trained at about 60 per cent and is confident of playing, but we won't take a risk with him,'' Noble said.

As for Sean Long, who suffered a dead leg as well as a gashed eye in a collision with Mason, he would only admit to being sore, but both he and his coach say he will play against the Kiwis.