It’s clearly the most talked about incident of the weekend in the Premiership, so if you missed it, here is the moment that Manu Tuilagi lost his cool and unleashed on Chris Ashton, landing one devastating blow in particular.
The Aviva Premiership semi final between Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints was expected to be a ferocious battle between two top sides in the English game, and it’s didn’t disappoint. Unfortunately things crossed a line though at one stage in the first half, with young Tuilagi totally losing the plot.
Leicester played the second half with all their fifteen players on the field, and took the 11-3 win late in the match with a powerful Alesana Tuilagi try. Saints fans, neutrals, and perhaps even Tigers fans, will all realise though that they’re very lucky to have not been a player down for a longer period.
Young Tuilagi took England winger Ashton out off the ball with a hit that itself could have been worthy of punishment. A little shove to the back of the head followed from Ashton, but Tuilagi, who could well be his Test team mate in the not too distant future, stood up and dished out what can only be described as a three punch combination more fitting for the boxing ring than the rugby field.
Ashton looked stunned, unable to fight back before the third, devastating blow landed. The fact that he stayed on his feet through it all was quite something, but he needed stitches afterwards, and some initial bandaging while the great injustice took place, as referee Wayne Barnes chatted to his touch judge.
Saints boss Jim Mallinger was appalled at the decision that followed. “First of all, you can’t have players taking players out, and you can’t be hitting players directly to the head, punching,” he said. “Chris Ashton did go over and give him a push, but you cannot react with three punches to the head without a red card.
“It’s a big game, live on television and it should be one of the highlights of the Premiership season. I guess the referees and referees’ assessors will have a real good look at it and work as hard as they can to make sure it doesn’t happen again. All I know is I have seen it, and to me, it is a clear red card. What did Ashton get a yellow card for – pushing?” he added.
Richard Cockerill from the Tigers said he didn’t see it, instead trying to focus on the match. “It was a good performance against a really good side. Let’s talk about that shall we? Let’s talk about how we controlled the game, let’s talk about Alesana’s try, let’s talk about the scrum contest, not all the crap you boys want to talk about and make headlines out of.”
The RFU will now decide whether or not Tuilagi will be cited, and what the resultant punishment will be. It seems almost certain that he’ll miss the Premiership final, and possibly the Churchill Cup with the England Saxon’s. Just how long he is suspended for will be interested to see.
UPDATE 18/05/2011: Manu Tuilagi has been suspended for 5 weeks, reduced from 10.