When Chris Ashton summoned his inner Luis Suarez and wanted a chunk of the arm of Northampton’s Alex Waller at a ruck during Saracen’ 27-12 Premiership victory on Saturday, it became the latest in a series of disciplinary issues which have come to blight the English winger’s career.
Banned for 10 weeks for eye-gouging Luke Marshall last season, Ashton has been handed a 13-week suspension on this occasion having been found guilty on two counts of biting.
Here we take a brief look at some of the lengthiest bans ever handed down in the sport.
Ironically, several of those who appear on this list would go on make a bigger name in the game and beyond on account of their misdemeanors.
- Dylan Hartley – 6 months (cumulative)
Where else is there to begin? Current England captain Hartley is notorious for appearing before disciplinary bodies. The New Zealand born hooker first met with a severe wrap on the knuckles when he was banned for 26 weeks for gouging both James Haskell and Johnny O’Connor of Wasps while playing for Northampton.
In March 2012, Stephen Ferris felt the wrath of Hartley’s teeth during the Six Nations – a deed for which Hartley received an 8-week ban. He was back to haunt the Irish in December of that year and was handed a two-week ban for striking Rory Best while on club duty.
Hartley was then embroiled in yet more controversy when he directed a torrent of verbal abuse at referee Wayne Barnes in the Premiership final of 2013. A shoe-in to travel, Hartley missed the 2013 Lions tour of Australia through his 11-week suspension.
In what seems like to be a means of securing an annual vacation, Hartley was then banned for three weeks for elbowing Leicester winger Matt Smith in December 2014.
While in May of 2015 he head butted Jamie George of Saracens, his main challenger for the English No.2 jersey – an incident that duly had him withdrawn from England’s Rugby World Cup plans.
- David Attoub – 70 weeks
Alongside teammate Julien Dupuy, Attoub became a hated figure throughout much of Ireland following his vicious eye-gouging attempt on Stephen Ferris during a 2009 Heineken Cup encounter between Ulster and Stade Francais. The presiding judge claimed that it was “the worst case of contact with the eyes I have had to deal with. It is a case of deliberate eye-gouging.”
Attoub’s history failed to help his cause – the prop had also been banned for a similar offence during a European Cup match in 2004/5.
In what appeared to have been a tactic employed by the Frenchmen, scrum-half Dupuy sought to scratch Ferris’ eye out and received a 23 week ban.
However, Attoub’s penalty was not the most stringent handed down for something of this nature. In 1999, Richard Nones of Colomiers, a salesman, was given the maximum two-year ban for gouging.
- Johan le Roux – 18 months
When South African prop Johan le Roux came into contact with New Zealand captain Sean Fitzpatrick in 1994, few anticipated how that the All Black would emerge without a portion of his ear.
The first ‘beast’ of South African rugby, le Roux was promptly sent home by management in the aftermath of the 13-9 defeat.
Although the incident was not spotted by Irish referee Brian Stirling, Fitzpatrick made a complaint which was later investigated.
Upon receiving a lengthy suspension le Roux exclaimed: “For an 18 month ban, I should have torn it right off!”
- Matt Stevens – 2 years
Capped for England at 21 and a Lion in 2005, Matt Stevens was the epitome of the modern prop. Technical in tight, allied to excellent footwork in the loose, Stevens was easily one of the best front-row operators in the Northern Hemisphere.
However, when Stevens travelled as a Lion for the second time in 2013, many argued that the integrity of the touring side should be called into question with the South African born prop aboard the plane.
Despite his good form, Stevens had been banned for a period of two years in 2009 when he tested positive for cocaine following Bath’s Heineken Cup encounter with Glasgow.
Credit where credit is due, Stevens sought to reestablish himself in the game upon his return. Ostracised by much of the English rugby community, Saracens made the contentious decision to offer the prop a path to redemption, leading to that Lions recall.
Stevens was further embraced by the English public when he carved out a name for being quite the character following his appearance on a celebrity edition of the X Factor. “Weirdly, the drug ban was one of the best things to ever happen to me,” he later said.
- Wendell Sailor – 2 years
Once a formidable and powerful Australian international winger, Sailor tested positive for cocaine in 2006 whilst playing for NSW Waratahs.
He was suspended for 2 years for playing any sport that subscribed to Australian and international anti-doping regulations. Sailor was already under much scrutiny but had returned to fine form after the Waratahs sent him home from South Africa earlier that same year for a late-night indiscretion at a nightclub.
Upon the expiration of his ban in 2008, Sailor opted to return to his rugby league roots before turning his hand to TV, presenting Australia’s Greatest Athlete.
- Julien Caminati – 33 months
First banned at the age of 18 for spitting at a referee in a French Fourth Division fixture, Caminati further cemented his growing bad-boy reputation when, following his reduced 26 month suspension, the book was once again thrown at him for a drugs offence whilst playing for Brive.
He is also remembered in his homeland for several red cards and a punch on Dmitri Yachvili.
- Dean Richards – 3 years
As Harlequins’ Director of Rugby, Dean Richards was charged with plotting the downfall of an in-form Leinster squad in the midst of a rampage through Europe.
To do so he formulated a devious plan that involved the purchase of fake blood capsules from a joke shop in Clapham.
With the game delicately poised at 6-5 to the Irish side, Richards sought to reintroduce Nick Evans, a goalkicker and potential match winner, back into the fold. Late in the game, Tom Williams on the Quins wing appeared to succumb to an injury late in the game.
Richards signalled to the officials and Evans re-entered the fray as a ‘blood replacement’. As he was being withdrawn and with blood apparently streaming from his mouth, Williams winked at his teammate. Few batted an eyelid but the ERC became suspicious and later determined that the blood pumping from his mouth was in fact fake.
A former England and Lions legend, Richards fine reputation in the game was tarnished. He received a 3 year ban, while Williams was suspended for 12 months (later reduced to 4 months).
- Trevor Brennan – 5 years
“Of course I have regrets about what happened that day, I reacted without thinking of the consequences,” admitted Trevor Brennan upon reflecting on his assault of an Ulster fan whilst warming-up for Toulouse in January 2007.
Much loved by the home support for his no nonsense approach to the game, few expected anybody outside the field of play would encounter his renowned physicality. Brennan retired from the game
Despite announcing his retirement in the aftermath of the incident, Brennan was hit with a lifetime ban. However, the suspension was subsequently reduced on appeal when it was convincingly argued that the player had been subjected to verbal abuse of his mother, prompting his reaction á la Zinedine Zidane.
- Dean Colclough – 8 years
Although his misdemeanor occurred off the Swansea playing field and several years following his retirement, Dean Colclough’s suspension is notable in that it was the biggest ban to be handed down in the UK for a first offence.
Although still registered for Morriston RFC, Colclough’s career was effectively ended by injury in 2007. Somewhat admirably, Colclough showed his entrepreneurial flair when he set-up and ran a company that produced and distributed muscle-building substances.
However, when Sam Chalmers, the 19 year-old son of Scotland and Lions out-half, was banned for two years for testing positive for anabolic steroids at a Scotland U20 training session in May 2013, the source was soon revealed.
Colclough was suspended from all sport for eight years for using his company to possess and distribute steroids.
- Michel Palmie – Life
Think of a big and cuddly Sebastien Chabal and you are still some distance from Michel Palmie.
In 1978, the Beziers and French international second row finally met his comeuppance. After years of “punching and gouging his way from Paris to Toulouse” Palmie was met with a lifetime ban for partially blinding Armand Clerc of Racing Club following a punch up.
In some circles, Palmie is not even described as the worst of Frenchmen during that period. His teammate, Gerard Cholley, a former heavyweight boxer and paratrooper, felled four Scotsmen with his fists in one game in 1977.
Palmie’s contribution to the game was not yet finished though. He later represented the French Rugby Federation as an official.
The Token Mention: Chris Jones – Life (x2)
Although little known outside the Valleys, Chris Jones wrought havoc on the rugby field throughout his playing days. “I would kick or stamp on an opponent’s head without a second thought,” admits the former Treorchy prop who used to carry an axe to matches.
Such was Jones’ behaviour that he was ultimately forced to retire from the game having been banned for life, not once, but twice for violent behaviour. Now a born again Christian, Jones has earned great credit for his subsequent coaching contributions to junior rugby in Wales.
The Irish Angel: Peter Clohessy – 9 months
“I just kind of leaned on his head with my boot,” says Peter Clohessy of his kicking of Olivier Roumat’s head during Ireland’s 45-10 defeat to France in the 1995 Five Nations. “Neil Francis was reporting on the match and he said to me “I think you are in a bit of trouble.’ I asked ‘why, what happened?’ I had actually forgotten about it.”
Clohessy was suspended for six months, with many suggesting his days in the Irish jersey were behind him despite being just 29 years of age.
Clohessy did return to the game, however his reputation for his rough-handed conduct preceded him thereafter. Clohessy had form – in 1993 he was suspended for 10 weeks for a stamp during a Young Munster and st. Mary’s All-Ireland league game.
The Claw went some way to redeeming his standing in the game during the years leading up to his retirement in 2002.
Indeed, he is largely credited for instilling a sense of identity and doggedness in a Munster side that would go on to conquer Europe in 2006 and 2008.