THE sorry saga of Zander Fagerson’s suspension continues, with the Six Nations appeals panel which spent two days considering his case upholding the findings of the initial disciplinary panel that he had committed a red-card offence and should be suspended for four weeks, but ruling that the panel “had not given appropriate weight to the evidence before it about the matches to be covered by the period of suspension”.
The initial panel stated that Fagerson was “suspended for four weeks and, given his playing schedule, he will miss the three Scotland matches in the Guinness Six Nations Championship against France (28th February), Ireland (14th March) and Italy (20th March), and one further match to be determined.”
However, the appeal panel has stated that Glasgow Warriors’ two matches against Ulster (19th February) and Zebre (6th March) on the Six Nations’ fallow weekends should count towards the ban, which should free him go play against Italy.
So far, so clear. However, news earlier today that Scotland’s game against France has now been postponed has confused matters. Can Fagerson now claim that he would have been released back to Glasgow Warriors to play against Leinster this weekend, so that should be counted towards his ban? Or will the Italy game now come back into play?
“Due to the postponement of the France v Scotland match, the Appeal Committee will have the opportunity to review Mr Fagerson’s playing schedule and consider the consequences of the postponement,” said a statement from Six Nations, which seems to mean we are back to a waiting game.
To further confuse the issue, much of the backlash against Fagerson’s initial four-match suspension was in relation to Ireland flanker Peter O’Mahony only getting a three-match ban after being sent off for the same offence the previous week. However, the ruling in this case stated “the player is suspended from 7th February 2021 to 14th March 2021, which represents three meaningful matches to the player”. That appears to take into account Ireland’s three matches against France (14th February), Italy (27th February) and Scotland (14th March), but not the two games he could potentially have played for Munster during the Six Nations fallow weeks (against Edinburgh on 20th February and Connacht on 5th March). It is likely that Ireland and O’Mahony will now be feeling slightly hard done by.
The statement from Six Nations said:
At a previous hearing before an independent Disciplinary Committee (which comprised two former international players) on 16 February 2021 Mr. Fagerson had accepted that he had committed an act of foul play but had not accepted that it had warranted a red card. However, the Disciplinary Committee had found that Mr Fagerson had committed an act of foul play (an infringement of both Law 9.20(a) and Law 9.20(b)) and that it had warranted a red card. The Disciplinary Committee had found that the act of foul play warranted a mid-range entry point (six weeks’ suspension) and reduced that by two weeks to take account of mitigating factors. Mr Fagerson had been suspended for four weeks and was to miss the three Scotland matches in the Guinness Six Nations Championship against France, Ireland and Italy, and one further match to be determined.
At Tuesday’s hearing, the Appeal Committee, heard submissions from Mr Fagerson and his legal counsel, Bruce Caldow, as well as from Six Nations’ legal representative. Mr Fagerson challenged a number of the Disciplinary Committee’s findings, including that he had infringed Law 9.20(a), that his act of foul play had warranted a red card, that he had made ‘direct’ contact with Wyn Jones’ head, that the mitigating factors allowed him a reduction in his suspension of just two weeks, and that the two Glasgow matches in the Guinness PRO14 (to be played on the ‘fallow weekends’ in the Guinness Six Nations Championship) should not ‘count’ towards his suspension.
The Appeal Committee were not satisfied that Mr Fagerson had established that the Disciplinary Committee had been wrong in upholding the red card, and therefore dismissed that part of the appeal.
The Appeal Committee were also not persuaded that the Disciplinary Committee had been wrong in arriving at a suspension of four weeks. However, the Appeal Committee was satisfied that the Disciplinary Committee had not given appropriate weight to the evidence before it about the matches to be covered by the period of suspension. Necessarily, decisions on matches to be covered by suspensions are fact-sensitive and player-specific. On the basis of all the evidence, the Appeal Committee was satisfied that the suspension should have covered the Glasgow matches against Ulster and Zebre, with the effect that the Mr Fagerson’s suspension currently applies to the following matches:
19 February 2021 Ulster
28 February 2021 France (subsequently postponed)
6 March 2021 Zebre
14 March 2021 Ireland
Due to the postponement of the France v Scotland match, the Appeal Committee will have the opportunity to review Mr Fagerson’s playing schedule and consider the consequences of the postponement.
The parties were informed of the decision during the evening of 24th February 2021.