Ayerza and Marler banned over Stoop brawl

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The Independent Online

Loose-head props of a high calibre are rare beasts indeed: France, for instance, are in a panic over the knee injury suffered by Thomas Domingo, perhaps the number one No 1 in the game, while playing for Clermont Auvergne at the weekend – a problem that will probably rule him out of the World Cup. Marcos Ayerza of Leicester and Joe Marler of Harlequins are not quite up to Domingo's standard, but by falling foul of the Rugby Football Union's disciplinarians, they have left their clubs up a gum tree at a pivotal moment in the season.

Ayerza, the Argentine Test forward, and Marler, a newcomer whose rapid progress earned him a few days with the England squad during the Six Nations, were dismissed by the international referee Wayne Barnes during the second half of a fractious Premiership match at the Stoop on Saturday. Ayerza butted Marler, albeit rather gently, after a bout of arm-wrestling, and received a couple of useful right-handers in return.

Both men entered guilty pleas when they appeared before the governing body's chief disciplinary officer, Judge Jeff Blackett, and two colleagues yesterday, and were banned for a fortnight. As a consequence, they will miss this weekend's important European action. Leicester travel to Dublin for a tough Heineken Cup quarter-final with Leinster on Saturday evening, while Quins face Wasps in the last eight of the second-tier Amlin Challenge Cup on Friday night.

As they cannot play again until 19 April, they will also be off-limits for round 20 of the Premiership. Leicester, the leaders, entertain third-placed Gloucester that weekend while Quins must visit Bath for a game crucial to their chances of Heineken Cup qualification next season. All things considered, their coaches will be far from amused.

Meanwhile, the Llanelli-based Scarlets regional team reacted strongly to the news that the Welsh Rugby Union would be taking no action against the Cross Keys player they held responsible for the injury that left the youngest of the great rugby-playing Quinnell family, Gavin, blind in one eye. The alleged miscreant was cited by Llanelli officials, but the complaint was not upheld. "We are all astonished and deeply shocked by this... stark verdict," said a club spokesman.

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