Nine-week gouging ban leaves Cueto free to focus on England

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The Independent Online

Mark Cueto, the England wing whose performances over the last two international seasons have cemented his status as a key member of the red-rose back division, can rest easy in his bed after learning that his preparations for the forthcoming World Cup in New Zealand will in no way be compromised by his citing for the serious offence of gouging. Cueto was last night banned for nine weeks – a relatively light punishment that ensures his availability for the global gathering in September.

The Sale captain, accused of "making contact with the eye or eye area" of the Northampton lock Christian Day during a Premiership game 11 days ago, appeared before a Rugby Football Union disciplinary tribunal in Liverpool. He had already been suspended for six weeks by his club. The additional three weeks will not convenience him at all: indeed, almost half the total ban will be served from mid-May to early June, when he would have been resting anyway.

Wisely, in light of video evidence portraying the incident in fine detail, Cueto did not contest the citing. The tribunal, chaired by Antony Davies, decided that the offence was "mid-range" in nature: a level of seriousness carrying an 18-week ban as a starting point. After hearing submissions from the player's legal representatives and taking into account his excellent record – the 31-year-old player has no history of violence on the field and is generally regarded as one of the sport's good guys – Davies and his colleagues, Cliff Barker and David McInnes, awarded him a 50 per cent reduction on account of "compelling mitigation".

Martin Johnson, the England manager, will welcome the outcome and might even consider it beneficial. Off-limits to Sale for the rest of the campaign, there is little or no risk of Cueto being injured ahead of the World Cup warm-up matches against Wales and Ireland in August.