Ban leaves Moody in clear for start of Six Nations

The 27-year-old, who will be free to play again on Sunday 29 January - a week before England open their Six Nations Championship campaign against Wales at Twickenham - left at the end of a two and a half hour hearing in London without saying anything.

It is the second time Moody has been banned for punching this season. He served a six-week suspension after being found guilty of punching Leeds Tykes flanker Jordan Crane in a Guinness A League match in September. But this latest offence was in full view of the rugby world late in the second half of Saturday's 40-3 win over Samoa when Moody was seen to punch his Leicester team-mate and friend Alesana Tuilagi.

A fight broke out after the England wing Mark Cueto had been up-ended in a tackle by Tuilagi, who had then delivered a right hook to Cueto when the winger had expressed his anger at his treatment.

A clearly incensed Moody rushed over, punched Tuilagi and a general mêlée then ensued. Both players were sent off, Moody becoming the first England player to be dismissed at Twickenham and the fourth in history, following Mike Burton (1975), Danny Grewcock (1998) and Simon Shaw (2004).

Last night, a three-man Six Nations disciplinary panel, chaired by the Scottish lawyer Rod McKenzie, handed out what many would regard as a light sentence given Moody's previous ban this season. He had been widely expected to receive at least a three-month suspension.

Tuilagi was also banned for his part in the incident, and will be sidelined for six weeks, while Tanner Vili, who had been cited for a forearm smash in the luckless Cueto's throat some 10 minutes earlier, was suspended for two weeks.

England's top clubs will meet the Rugby Football Union twice this week to try to thrash out an agreement over player release.

The RFU terminated the Long Form Agreement (LFA), a charter for all dealings between club and country, as part of an ongoing dispute. Premier Rugby Limited, which represents the clubs, refused to acknowledge the move and the matter will go tocourt in February unless they reach agreement.

The clubs want Twickenham to offer something by way of compensation - cash or concessions - for the extra days that England require their top players.

They also want to have elements of the LFA, which was drawn up in 2001, tweaked to bring it up to date. The first meeting is between Francis Baron, the RFU chief executive, and Mark McCafferty, his PRL counterpart, today.

Having completed a Grand Slam of the home nations, New Zealand swept the board in the International Rugby Board Awards in Paris. Fly-half Daniel Carter was named International Player of the Year, the All Blacks Team of the Year and Graham Henry Coach of the Year.

This year's Varsity match on 6 December, the 124th between Oxford and Cambridge, will be the last to be sponsored by MMC at the end of a 30-year deal.

Both universities are in talks with potential sponsors and are confident of finding a replacement. The Varsity sponsorship was the first in Rugby Union, which in those days was strictly amateur.

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