Corry banned for three weeks after striking Hill with elbow

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The Independent Online

Martin Corry, the Leicester No 8, was last night suspended for three weeks for elbowing his international colleague, Richard Hill, in the face during last weekend's rough Premiership match at Saracens.

Martin Corry, the Leicester No 8 who captained England in the last two matches of this year's Six Nations Championship and is expected to play a major role on the British and Irish Lions' summer tour of New Zealand, was last night suspended for three weeks for elbowing his international colleague, Richard Hill, in the face during last weekend's rough Premiership match at Saracens. Corry was sent off by the referee, Chris White, on the say-so of one of the touch judges. Hill needed six stitches in an eye wound.

He will definitely miss two matches crucial to Leicester's season: the Heineken Cup semi-final against Toulouse at the Walkers Stadium on Sunday, and the last fixture of the regular Premiership campaign against Wasps at Welford Road on Saturday week. Should the Tigers lose the latter game, Corry will also miss the Premiership play-off game against one of Bath, Sale and Saracens on 7 May. He will be available for both the Premiership and Heineken finals, should his side reach either or both.

Richard Moon, the former Rosslyn Park and Harlequins scrum-half who chaired the three-man Rugby Football Union tribunal, said Corry had shown contrition and had made clear his regret at letting down himself, his team-mates and his country. However, his disciplinary record, which is far from from spotless, was taken into account.

Corry, who admitted the charge, was instructed to view video footage of the fracas, which occurred in the 28th minute of the game at Vicarage Road, before putting his side of the story. He was represented by Richard Smith QC, who has cornered the market in defending England players since being drafted into Sir Clive Woodward's inner circle during the 2003 tour of New Zealand and Australia and playing a significant role in the World Cup campaign later that year.

This was not Corry's first brush with the sport's disciplinarians in recent months. Last October, he was cited for stamping on the Bath captain Jonathan Humphreys during a drawn Premiership match at Welford Road, and was suspended for two weeks after the panel decided that his action was reckless rather than malicious. A second Leicester forward, the hooker George Chuter, was also implicated in the Humphreys incident and received a six-week ban.

Next week, one of Corry's more illustrious club colleagues, the former England and Lions captain Martin Johnson, will be summoned to the same Coventry hotel to answer charges relating to three yellow cards for foul play.

A ban of any length would threaten his participation in the play-off stage of the Premiership campaign and might even prevent him playing in the Heineken Cup final at Murrayfield on 22 May, should the Midlanders make it through this weekend's semi-final with the Frenchmen.

Pierre Berbizier has been confirmed as the new head coach of the Italy national team. The former France international replaces the New Zealander John Kirwan, who left his position earlier this month after his team lost every game in this year's Six Nations.

Berbizier has signed a two and a half year contract with the Azzurri.

The Lions head coach, Sir Clive Woodward, has an uphill battle to secure the release of two key members of his 44-strong party from their French clubs.

The Wales captain and full-back Gareth Thomas plays for Toulouse, while his compatriot, fly-half Stephen Jones plays for Clermont Auvergne, and Woodward's problem is that both players will be involved in the French Championship on the last weekend of May. By then the Lions party will have left for New Zealand.

And while that weekend sees the final league matches of the Championship, there will still be play-offs in early June.

Woodward told BBC Wales yesterday: "Sometimes you've got to sit back and work with the clubs, so possibly those two players may be coming out a week later. The professional game has moved on; the Lions series is all about the Test matches. We've got to speak to the two clubs but also common sense has got to come into this."

Thomas was yesterday given the all-clear to resume full training after an X-ray showed that the thumb he fractured in the Six Nations had healed completely, and he is expected to take part in the Leicester match.