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Club Rugby

Attoub handed 70-week ban for gouging

Stade Francais prop David Attoub has been handed a 70-week ban for eye gouging by an independent judicial officer.

The 28-year-old was found guilty of gouging Ulster flanker Stephen Ferris during the Irish province's 23-13 Heineken Cup victory over Stade at Ravenhill on December 12, 2009.

Attoub was found guilty of the offence on Friday, but the sentencing was delayed until today.Judge Jeff Blackett in his judgement said: "This is the worst act of contact with the eyes that I have had to deal with: it is a case of deliberate eye gouging."

The ban means Attoub will not be available to play again until April 22, 2011.

His team-mate Julien Dupuy was handed 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, but that claim was dismissed by the hearing.

The ban is the second-most severe to have been handed out for a gouging offence in the professional era, 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 within the game following the furore over 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."