Jerry Flannery will be available for the final three matches of Ireland's Six Nations campaign after having his suspension for stamping reduced on appeal.
An independent committee convened in Dublin yesterday decided the offence was not pre-meditated and that the original eight-week suspension was too severe. The ban has been halved to four weeks and ends on 21 February, freeing Flannery up for the Six Nations matches against Scotland, Wales and England.
Flannery was suspended by an ERC disciplinary panel for stamping on Julien Bonnaire during Munster's Heineken Cup defeat by Clermont Auvergne on 13 January. The 29-year-old was stunned by the length of the original suspension, which ruled him out of the entire Six Nations after the offence was deemed to be at the top end in its level of seriousness.
But the three-man appeal panel that met in Dublin agreed the Munster front row had been punished too harshly. Their statement read: "It was the view of the independent appeal committee that the original disciplinary committee was in error in its determination that the offence was deliberate and of the top end in the level of seriousness.
"The appeal committee found that Mr Flannery had stamped on the player recklessly rather than deliberately and accordingly determined that the offence was of mid-range in the level of seriousness.
"Having taken into account any mitigating and aggravating factors, the appeal committee reduced the period of suspension to four weeks, which will now run up to Thursday, 21 February, 2008."
The decision will have been welcomed by Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan as Flannery was set to start the Six Nations as first-choice hooker.
Leinster's Bernard Jackman has been handed the No 2 jersey for Saturday's meeting with France, with Rory Best of Ulster, who started against Italy last weekend, named on the bench. A successful full debut from the hard-running Jackman could make the 31-year-old difficult to shift from the front row, but the combative Flannery would certainly be in the frame for selection.
Lack of match fitness would suggest the game with Scotland on 23 February is too early for Flannery to win his 22nd cap, with Wales two weeks later a more realistic target.