Northampton’s head coach and contender for the England managerial vacancy, Jim Mallinder, has labelled the ban handed down to Saints and England star Chris Ashton this week as “harsh”, hinting that Northampton may well appeal against the wingers four week suspension.
Ashton is set to miss two Heineken Cup games and two Premiership encounters during his ban unless any appeal is successful. Ashton was banned following a hair pulling incident with Leicester’s Alesana Tuilagi. Ashton was deemed to have pulled Tuilagi’s hair and dragged him into touch by it sparking a huge brawl which saw a man from each side sent off.
Saints’ games against Leicester have taken on a fierce edge in recent years. Last year’s semi final encounter between the two sides was marred by a punch from Tuilagi’s brother, Manu, on Ashton. The rivalry of these midlands rivals has been intensified by the recent success of both sides, following Saints return to the Premiership, following relegation a few years back.
Mallinder feels the stage on which Ashton’s moment of stupidity occurred should have been taken into consideration and feels that in a “normal game” he is not sure whether the incident would have warranted a red card had it been spotted by the referee. He feels it “wasn’t a normal game – it was a big, physical encounter between two rivals and a fantastic game of rugby.” Mallinder appreciates it was “a shame something like this had to happen”, but maintains his view that the RFU have made a harsh decision.
If Saints wish to appeal against the ban, they must do so by the end of the week.
Also in the build up to Northampton’s Heineken cup games this weekend, Mallinder reiterated his desire to take on the England role. He did however pay credit to Saints’ fans, owners and the board. His desire is still clearly to take the England job after the Six Nations, but he has made it clear that he is in no rush to leave Northampton.