Exonerated Ferris free to face France

Wayne Barnes should not have awarded a penalty against Stephen Ferris — let alone followed it up with a yellow card — for the tackle on Ian Evans which allowed Wales to snatch victory at Lansdowne Road last weekend.

That was the finding of the independent Six Nations’ disciplinary committee detailed with hearing the Ulster flanker’s citing charge in London, according to a statementissued by the Ireland team’s management last night.

Paul O’Connell admitted after the game he was stunned to hear theEnglish match official award a penalty for the incident and Irish incredulity was heightened when the Ulster flanker was sin-binned and duly cited by the match commissioner.

Even Warren Gatland admitted there was no comparison between Ferris’ tackle and Bradley Davies’ off-the-ball variety on Donnacha Ryan and that was emphasised by the decision yesterday to suspend the Welsh lock for seven weeks.

So, while Ferris is now free to face the French this weekend, Davies will have to sit out the rest of the Six Nations as his ban runs up to March 26, nine days after his side meets France in what could yet be a championship decider in Cardiff.

Both players’ citing cases were heard yesterday afternoon and Irish team manager Mick Kearney, who accompanied Ferris to the English capital, claimed the verdict was exoneration of the back row’s much-debated tackle.

“While we understand and fully support the stance to stamp out dangerous tackles in the game to make it safe at all levels, the disciplinary panel itself felt the decision to award a penalty was incorrect and we also felt that it was a fair and legitimate tackle by Stephen,” he said.

“He is a hard and fair player and I think that his previous disciplinary record supports why we felt so strongly about his defence. The focus now for Stephen and the rest of the squad is to prepare for the game against France this weekend.”

As for Davies, a Six Nations spokesperson said his indiscretion had “merited a top-end entry to the IRB’s table of sanctions” which will be bittersweet news for Declan Kidney’s charges given he received only a yellow card at the time.

The committee added two weeks to the entry point ban of 10 weeks to “reflect the need for a deterrent for this type of foul play” but then applied the maximum reduction of five weeks for his “admission of guilt, his previous good disciplinary record and his conduct at the hearing”.

“Thank goodness that is all over. Happy man,” Ferris tweeted later and his confirmed availability leaves Kidney with a full complement from which to choose for the visit to a venue which has provided few happy memories for the national team.

Too often Ireland have been buried before drawing breath in Saint-Denis. In 2006 they trailed 43-3 and the deficit was 26-6 at one point two years later. Both games produced storming but futile comebacks and Rob Kearney wants that trend to end.

l Six Nations and French federation officials remain fully confident Saturday’s game will go ahead despite concerns voiced by Vincent Clerc that the surface could be dangerous and even unplayable.

Clerc, who started on the wing in France’s tournament opener at the Stade de France and said last night: “If it’s minus seven [degrees Celsius] on Saturday, there is reason for concern over the frozen pitch. It was already frozen when we played Italy. The parts near the touchline were frozen.”

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