Flannery could face Six Nations ban

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The Independent Online

Jerry Flannery's participation in the RBS 6 Nations is under serious threat after the Ireland hooker was today cited for his dangerous lunge on France winger Alexis Palisson.

Flannery has been charged with an "alleged kick", an offence that carries a sanction range of between four and 12 weeks but can also result in a maximum one-year ban.

The independent three-man disciplinary committee is set to be convened on Wednesday and is sure to take a dim view of an incident which occurred in the 23rd minute of Ireland's 33-10 defeat in Paris.

Flannery scythed down Palisson with a powerful kick after the Montauban back had picked up the ball and was lucky to concede only a penalty.

Referee Wayne Barnes consulted his touch judge Stuart Terheege, who believed the challenge to be a "shoulder charge", and Flannery escaped a potential red card.

But replays have exposed the severity of an incident that could have caused serious injury to Palisson, who was subsequently forced from the pitch with a dead leg.

It meant a penalty that had been awarded to Ireland was reversed and it came at a bad time with prop Cian Healy already in the sin-bin - a 10-minute spell that saw France score 10 points.

Should Flannery be suspended, Rory Best will take over the hooking duties where required for the remaining fixtures against England, Wales and Scotland.

It will continue a remarkable comeback for the Ulster hooker who only recently completed his rehabilitation from neck surgery. Losing Flannery will be a bitter blow to Ireland as they seek to pick up the pieces of their shattered Grand Slam defence.

The tournament resumes against England on February 27 with head coach Declan Kidney needing to restore morale following Saturday's fearful battering by an outstanding France.

The severity of the defeat has sparked a debate on whether Ireland's Grand Slam side, who were flattered by the 3-1 try count, have reached the end of a cycle.

Skipper Brian O'Driscoll dismissed the suggestion, but Ireland's chances of nudging their Six Nations back on track will not be improved by a ban for Flannery, while star full-back Rob Kearney is rated doubtful because of a knee injury.

Further muddying the waters are calls to drop John Hayes, Ireland's long-serving tighthead prop who will win his 100th cap if selected against England.

But flanker Stephen Ferris has reacted to the general uncertainty whipped up by events in Paris by claiming the Irish remain firmly in the title hunt.

"Everyone is feeling frustrated and we want to go and put it right at Twickenham in two weeks' time," he said.

"The past 12-18 months have been fantastic. We've ground out some good wins but fair play to France, they deserved it.

"We need to be more clinical against England. The race for the title is not over yet. You don't become a bad team overnight.

"If we can cut out the silly mistakes there's no reason why we can't win at Twickenham."