Rugby Union: Healey ban is eight weeks

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AUSTIN HEALEY may be able to talk a good game of rugby, but the Leicester and England scrum-half's renowned verbal gymnastics last night failed to extricate him from the serious disciplinary hole he dug for himself in front of several million television viewers at Welford Road last month. A Rugby Football Union disciplinary panel suspended Healey for eight weeks for his part in an ugly incident involving his opposite number from London Irish, Kevin Putt, during an Allied Dunbar Premiership match on 13 February.

Television footage showed Healey's right boot in contact with Putt's face and after an official citing from London Irish, the "Leicester Lip" was suspended by his club for three weeks. At last night's hearing at the East India Club in London, a three-man tribunal headed by Bob Rogers effectively extended the ban by five weeks.

Healey had been quoted at the weekend as threatening to quit the sport in the event of any significant additional penalty, although he later sounded a more conciliatory note. Nevertheless, he will not be amused by the tribunal's judgement, especially as a player with far more heinous disciplinary antecedents, the Bath prop Kevin Yates, was last weekend banned for only four weeks for a "reckless" connection with the head of Paul Volley, the Wasps flanker.

After hearing evidence from both Healey and a high-powered Tiger contingent including Peter Wheeler, the Leicester chief executive, and Dean Richards, the club coach, Rogers and his fellow panel members, Robin Foster and the former England forward Jeff Probyn, decided there had been no deliberate stamp. However, Healey had been "reckless" and should not play again until 10 April.

That rules him out of the rest of the Five Nations' Championship and a number of important Leicester fixtures, including Premiership games with Northampton, Wasps and Bath, which could have a significant bearing on the outcome of the Premiership title race.

Martin Johnson, the Leicester captain, had his white "sin-bin" card during his club's Tetley's Bitter Cup quarter-final defeat at Richmond on 27 February struck from the record.

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