Ireland rugby international Neil Best has been banned for 18 weeks by the Rugby Football Union after admitting illegally making contact with the eye or eye area of Wasps’ James Haskell with his hand during a Guinness Premiership game on September 20.
After a two-and-a-half-hour hearing in London yesterday, attended by Best, the three-man RFU panel decided on further discussions this morning, prior to handing down their decision.
He cannot play again until January 28 next year, missing eight rounds of Premiership action, plus all of Northampton’s European Challenge Cup and EDF Energy Cup pool matches.
Best, capped 18 times by Ireland and a member of the 2007 World Cup squad, appeared before a three-man panel chaired by the RFU's disciplinary officer, His Honour Judge Jeff Blackett.
Best had been cited by Premiership citing officer Ken Pattinson following Saints’ 24-20 victory over Wasps at Franklin’s Gardens.
Haskell gave evidence before the panel, confirming his written statement made after the game that the player (Best) "gratuitously commenced to gouge at (his) eye with increasing intensity".
Haskell, a contender to captain England in their autumn Tests next month, said his vision became increasingly blurred, he suffered excruciating pain and felt physically sick because of soreness.
He was later taken to Northampton General Hospital, where an ophthalmologist diagnosed a corneal abrasion and prescribed antibiotic drops.
Photographs taken a day after the game showed significant swelling around Haskell’s eye, which was closed and bruised, with a one-centimetre scratch on his upper eyelid.
Best, whose Northampton team-mate Dylan Hartley received a six-month suspension for eye-gouging last year, told the panel he had acted recklessly, and not deliberately.