Azam's record undermines appeal against 12-week ban

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The Independent Online

The Gloucester hooker Olivier Azam has paid the price for a poor disciplinary record after yesterday failing in his appeal against a 12-week ban for kicking the England captain, Steve Borthwick.

Azam was technically successful in arguing that the offence, for which he pleaded guilty last week, was mid-range in its severity and therefore only deserved a punishment of eight weeks. But the Rugby Football Union's appeals panel upheld the original 12-week suspension after taking Azam's track record into account.

The former France international had only just returned from a nine-week ban for eye-gouging when he injured Borthwick in Gloucester's Guinness Premiership defeat at Saracens last month.

The original disciplinary panel concluded Azam was guilty of a top-end offence worthy of a 16-week ban but reduced to 12 weeks after taking mitigating circumstances into account.

Last night's appeals panel, chaired by Ian Mill QC and featuring Philip Evans and David Hurst, accepted that Azam deserved only eight weeks for the kick, but then added on six weeks for his previous record, taking the total to 14 weeks. He then had two weeks knocked off in recognition of his guilty plea and other mitigating factors, meaning Azam remains banned for 12 weeks.

As a result, he is unavailable for Gloucester until their first Guinness Premiership fixture of 2010, against Worcester on 2 January. He will miss Gloucester's next three Heineken Cup matches, six Premiership games, two Anglo-Welsh Cup ties and the club's marquee friendly against Australia on 3 November.

Borthwick will make his return to action tomorrow night in Saracens' Amlin Challenge Cup trip to Toulon after recovering from "extreme swelling" of his right eye. After the incident Borthwick was admitted overnight into the specialist Moorfields Eye Hospital in London for observation, after initially fearing for his sight altogether before being cleared of any major damage.

"It was a nervous time. The eye swelled shut immediately so I couldn't see anything and it had taken a bang so it was numb and I couldn't feel anything. I was very alarmed by it," Borthwick said.

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