England were today considering whether to appeal against Courtney Lawes’ two-match ban for recklessly striking Argentina hooker Mario Ledesma with his knee.
Lawes, the first player to be banned at the Rugby World Cup, is out of England’s Pool B matches against Romania and Georgia but he will be available to face Scotland on October 1.
The Northampton lock entered a not guilty plea when he appeared before a disciplinary hearing in Auckland today, having been cited following England’s 13-9 win against the Pumas in Dunedin.
The offence carries a guideline suspension of between three and 12 weeks – or matches in the World Cup context – and Lawes’ offence was deemed to be ’low end’.
The independent judicial officer Terry Willis, from Australia, reduced the ban from three to two weeks on account of Lawes’ “excellent disciplinary record and remorse”.
England manager Martin Johnson was clearly disappointed with the verdict but the early indications from the Red Rose camp were that they would not appeal.
But Johnson wanted to wait until England’s travelling QC Richard Smith, who represented Lawes, has studied the full written judgement before making a final decision.
“He has dived in to make what he thinks is a try-saving tackle and we thought any contact with the knees was incidental to him trying to do that in a fast-paced game,” said Johnson. “They obviously saw it a little bit differently.”
England have the resources to cover Lawes’ absence for the Georgia and Romania games with Louis Deacon, Simon Shaw and Tom Palmer in the squad as recognised locks while Tom Croft and Nick Easter can both fill in.
“It is disappointing to potentially lose him. For a young man, he played very well. It is not great,” said Johnson.
“We have the cover clearly. The good thing for us squad-wise is that we will need to play players.
“We can’t have guys not playing at all – and then asking them to play later games in the pool or hopefully into the knockout stages.”
Johnson confirmed England “anticipate” squad captain Lewis Moody being available to face Georgia on Sunday.
Moody has not played since limping out of England’s first World Cup warm-up international with knee ligament damage.
“We are hopeful he is going to be good to go,” said Johnson. “We talked last week that he wasn’t far off being fit. Another week is always better when you’ve been injured for a long time but, at some point, you’ve got to go and we are hopeful.”
Johnson brushed off criticism for allowing his players to bungy jump as part of an adrenaline-fuelled day off in Queenstown.
Some members of the squad completed the so-called Awesome Foursome – a 134-metre bungy-jump, white-water rafting, jetboating and a helicopter ride.
“What they do when they are training is far more dangerous than what they did there,” said Johnson.
“On these trips you need a balance. We came to Queenstown for a reason. The main reason is to prepare for the Georgia game but they have the opportunity to do things.
“In Auckland they went on the America’s Cup boats. They haven’t been skiing because that is too risky for injury.
“Bungy jumping is deemed to be something they can do. If any guy had an injury that would be jeopardised by doing it they wouldn’t do it.”