Attoub given 70-week gouging ban

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The Independent Online

In handing down a 70-week ban to Stade Français' David Attoub yesterday, Judge Jeff Blackett declared the prop's crime "the worst act of contact with the eyes that I have had to deal with: it is a case of deliberate eye gouging".

The 24-year-old was found guilty of gouging Stephen Ferris, the Ulster flanker, during the Irish province's 23-13 Heineken Cup victory over Stade at Ravenhill on 13 December last year.

Attoub was found guilty of the offence on Friday, but the sentencing was delayed until yesterday. The ban – the second-most severe to have been handed out for a gouging – means he will not be available to play again until 22 April 2011.

Julien Dupuy, his team-mate, received a 24-week ban, reduced to 23 on appeal, for his role in the incident. Attoub, who had previously served a suspension for gouging in a European match during the 2004-05 season, had pleaded not guilty to the offence, although the incident was captured clearly in an image taken by a photographer at the match. The authenticity of that image was disputed by Stade – a claim dismissed by the hearing.

Attoub's ban is exceeded only by the two-year ban handed to Colomiers prop Richard Nones in 1999. The severity of the ban falls in line with an increasingly tough stance against gouging following the eight-week ban handed to South Africa flanker Schalk Burger for his gouging of British and Irish Lions wing Luke Fitzgerald during last year's second Test in Pretoria.

Blackett's ruling said: "His account skated over the period when his hand was clearly near and on Ferris' face and he declined to explain precisely what he was doing other than trying to move away from where he was.

"When he was shown the incriminating photographs and asked to explain what he saw or what was happening he replied that he did not know. He refused to accept the possibility that his finger was in the eye. It was this evasiveness which satisfied me that his account was less than truthful and that he knew that he had deliberately attacked the eyes of an opponent but was trying to evade responsibility."

The Saracens director of rugby Brendan Venter appeared before a Rugby Football Union disciplinary panel in London last night to answer a charge relating to his sharp criticism of the referee David Rose following the Watford-based club's Premiership defeat by Leicester earlier this month. The panel, led by Judge Jeff Blackett, reserved judgement. Their verdict is expected this afternoon.

England will be without Tom Croft for at least their first two Six Nations fixtures after the flanker was ruled out for five to six weeks. The Leicester player suffered medial knee ligament damage in the 47-8 Heineken Cup win over Viadana on Saturday. He will miss the games against Wales and Italy, and his participation against Ireland at Twickenham on 27 February is also in doubt.

A scan has confirmed that Croft sustained a grade two medial cruciate ligament injury to his left knee. He has now started his rehabilitation programme with a view to returning to action in five to six weeks. The England medical staff will continue to work closely with Leicester Tigers during his recovery process."

The Ireland head coach Declan Kidney has named Rory Best and Marcus Horan in his 44-man squad for the Six Nations. Best has not played this season having undergone surgery on a neck injury last summer. Horan returns having missed out on the autumn internationals after undergoing a routine medical procedure for a minor heart ailment.