Gloucester knew it was coming, and today it arrived – a long ban that will keep Andy Hazell, the long-serving flanker who commands the respect of supporters in the Kingsholm Shed, out of rugby until the new year. Hazell was handed a 14-week suspension for repeatedly punching Sebastien Ormaechea, a prop with the French club Mont-de-Marsan, during a fractious Amlin Challenge Cup pool match earlier this month.
Hazell also drove his knee into Ormaechea's head as the victim lay spreadeagled on the floor, leaving the match officials no option but to flourish a red card in his direction. For their part, Gloucester did not dispute that their player had lost all self-control – indeed, Hazell himself confessed as much – but they also indicated that he had been provoked by a bout of eye-gouging, perhaps the deadliest sin in the sport.
Unfortunately for Hazell, the club could not produce sufficient evidence to persuade disciplinary officials that one or more Mont-de-Marsan players might have played a part in the build-up to the incident.
He alone was charged, and yesterday the independent judicial officer Roger Morris removed him from the game until 21 January. Morris decided that Hazell's offence was of the "top-end" variety and would have dished out an 18-week suspension but for the player's guilty plea and his "exemplary conduct" during the hearing. However, 14 weeks is quite bad enough from Gloucester's perspective. Hazell may be 34 now, but he remains the most reliable breakaway forward available to the West Country club, who have started the season brightly and are chasing a top-four Premiership finish.
In another hearing, the 18-year-old Toulouse hooker Christoper Tolofua was suspended for six weeks after the player admitted hitting the Treviso scrum-half Fabien Semenzato with a dangerous tackle during a Heineken Cup match in Italy last weekend. The highly-rated forward broke into the French Test squad during the summer but will now miss next month's international programme.
Sale, meanwhile, have made nine changes to the side that lost the Heineken Cup pool match in Montpellier last weekend for tonight's important Premiership meeting with Worcester at Sixways. Danny Cipriani holds his place at outside-half but there are selectorial revisions in virtually every other area of the side as the northerners travel in search of a first Premiership victory of the campaign. Ross Harrison, the England Under-20 prop, makes a first start in the front row while Nick Macleod, who forced Cipriani on to the bench for a while, plays at full-back.
Worcester, who scored a rare attacking bonus point on their last Premiership appearance at home but drew a desperate blank at Wasps a week later, have relegated the captain Dean Schofield to the bench, thereby granting the line-out specialist Craig Gillies a first start of the season in the engine room. Matt Mullan, the loose-head prop, will lead a side featuring former London Irish and England scrum-half Paul Hodgson at No 9.