McGeechan defends disgraced Leslie

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The Independent Online

The disgraced Scotland flanker Martin Leslie was vigorously defended by his coach Ian McGeechan yesterday, but it is still to be decided whether there will be an appeal against his record 12-week ban.

Leslie was condemned by World Cup judicial officer, Terry Willis, who handed down the punishment after finding the back-rower guilty of intentionally kneeing Jason Keyter in the head during Monday's game against the United States. If the suspension - the longest handed out to a Scotland international for an offence committed in a Test match - stands, it will end the Edinburgh player's international career.

Television replays appear to leave no doubt that Leslie deliberately set out to catch Keyter's head with his knee.

However, McGeechan insisted both he and the remainder of the Scotland squad feel Leslie has been treated unfairly. "Martin has been a tremendous role model, probably one of the most popular players among his peers and among supporters," McGeechan said. "We will always reflect on his totally selfless attitude to the game and the immense amount he has given to Scotland. He was due to retire from the international game at the end of the World Cup and it saddens me that he may have to bow out under such circumstances."

Scotland have until Friday to decide whether to launch an appeal and Leslie stands by his defence that the incident was unintentional. The 31-year-old brother of former Scotland captain John had never previously been cited in his 37-cap international career.

"The clearest angle of the incident shows that Leslie, of his own volition, pulled the jersey of Keyter, dragging him on to the Scottish side of the ruck," Willis said. "He had ample space after dragging the player down to avoid contact between his knee and the head of the player.

"I am mindful that a significant period of suspension is required to mark my concern over the unnecessary and dangerous use of the knee by Leslie on the head of the American player who was in an unprotected and vulnerable position."