Gloucester have just about resigned themselves to losing their long-serving flanker Andy Hazell for several weeks after the former England forward's prolonged assault on the prone Mont-de-Marsan prop Sébastien Ormaechea during the second half of Thursday night's Amlin Challenge Cup match at Stade Guy Boniface.
It was not quite the start to this year's European rugby campaign envisaged by the powers that be and they are certain to come down heavily on him. But the West Country club will not take things lying down in the way Ormaechea did.
Hazell took to social media yesterday to state that while he was mortified by his sending-off – "Never had a red in 12 years, extremely embarrassed by my actions," he tweeted – the provocation had been extreme. He claimed that, on three occasions during a fractious encounter, Mont-de-Marsan players had tried to cause him serious injury. He was supported to a significant degree by his head coach, Nigel Davies, who spoke of damage to Hazell's eye while stopping short of any direct accusation of gouging.
"We'll speak to the citing commissioner," Davies said. "We can't condone what was done from a Gloucester point of view, but it was a reaction to what went before. We'll take our punishment, but Mont-de-Marsan need to take theirs too."
Hazell, widely regarded as fair-minded as well as a hard competitor, was dismissed after 55 minutes of Gloucester's 11-6 victory. Video footage showed him hitting Ormaechea with a number of "big right hands", as Henry Cooper might have put it, and also driving his knee in the direction of the prop's head as he lay face down.
Hazell's fellow back-rower Matt Cox was sent to the sin bin for retaliation, while the home forwards Scott Murray and Ephraim Taukafa also spent time in the cooler.
"We'll look at the video, but from what I've seen already I'm sure we will make a complaint," Davies continued. "The doctor had a look at Andy's eye: it was sore and very red. We've taken some pictures of it, because it is damning evidence in its own right."
This is not the first time in recent seasons that Gloucester have had fun and games in this competition. Two seasons ago, the lock Dave Attwood was banned for nine weeks for stamping on the La Rochelle forward Petrisor Toderasc.
That suspension had grave consequences for Attwood, who has since moved to Bath. At the time of the offence he was a hot favourite to make the England squad for the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, but after serving his ban the selectors decided that he had missed too much rugby and overlooked him.
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