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'Are you having a laugh?': Penny cops ban for Newcastle red card

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Newcastle full-back Tom Penny has been banned for two matches after appearing at a disciplinary hearing following his 49th-minute red card from referee Anthony Woodthorpe in last Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership win over Wasps at Kingston Park. Penny was sent packing for contact with the eye area of Jimmy Gopperth, contrary to World Rugby law 9.12.  

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Falcons boss Dean Richards defended his player post-game, claiming: “Tom is distraught in the changing room because he didn’t think anything was deliberate. His leg was trapped in by Jimmy Gopperth, and you have got to look at who the instigator of the whole thing was. 

“Tom tried to release his leg three times and couldn’t. As he was stumbling away and breaking free, he pushes his face and catches I think his eye. Jimmy makes a meal of it and if there is contact with the eye then so be it. It wasn’t deliberate and you have to look at who the protagonist is. It’s clearly Jimmy Gopperth, and why should our boy get penalised for being held in at a ruck?”

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At the resulting disciplinary hearing, Newcastle back Penny accepted the charge and was given a two-match suspension by a panel comprising James Dingemans with Mitch Read and Leon Lloyd. He is free to play again on October 19. In addition, Penny was given a reprimand in relation to a separate charge brought under RFU rule 5.12 for disrespecting the authority of the match official by questioning, “Are you having a laugh?”

The full judgment from the hearing stated: “The player did not intend to make contact with the eye, but the action was reckless because he made contact with the face of the Wasps player close to the eye. The comments made to the match official were intentionally made because the player made the remark.”

Penny explained in his defence: “As I tried to release myself, Wasps No12 then gripped me harder pulling my left leg closer to the ruck, refusing to allow me to leave. His grip on my leg, neck and shoulder area was becoming dangerous as I tried more and more to release myself, my left leg was unsteady and ineffective as he had held on to it and all my weight because other people had joined the ruck was starting to move onto that left leg.

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“Without looking at him I pushed him with an open hand around the shoulder area to force him to release me. Panicking, I pushed him once more on the shoulder and once again on the top side of his head area, both with an open palm and was just about to move away when his left leg swung through and hit my supporting outside knee causing it to jolt sideways about three feet. It wasn’t an insignificant blow from his knee, it caught my knee in which I have had an ACL repair and the initial pain caused me to react by leaning back to push him on his head once more.

“As I pushed his head while still unsteady having been knocked sideways, I now believe my little finger caught him in the eye. I wasn’t aware that I had caught him in the eye at the time and it certainly wasn’t my intention and totally felt that I was never going to be anywhere near it, but had I not been off-balance I know I certainly wouldn’t have been as I am not that type of person.

“I was looking at him at the time so I was surprised when I was told by the referee that I had made contact with the eye. I spoke to the player post-match and apologised to him. He seemed fine about it, saying it was just rugby. I am not happy about making contact with the eye and am angry that the whole incident happened in the first place.”

A four-week entry point was determined for sanction which was subsequently halved, meaning Penny will miss the Newcastle matches versus Saracens and Bristol. “We have provided the maximum mitigation in this case because the player admitted the breaches; the player has a good disciplinary record; and the player has cooperated with the disciplinary process,” read the panel’s summary.

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“Although the player’s comment to the referee in relation to the first offence and the red card was disrespectful, the player is being separately sanctioned for that and it would not be appropriate to penalise the player twice for the same conduct.”

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