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Red-carded Williams and Bath kitman Middleton learn their fate

By Liam Heagney

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Bath duo Mike Williams and kit manager Steve Middleton have both been banned following separate incidents during last Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership defeat at home to Wasps. Williams, the soon-to-be 30-year-old forward, was red-carded in the 47th minute by referee Ian Tempest for dangerous play at a ruck on Jimmy Gopperth while Middleton was ordered from the field of play for comments made to the referee. 

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Williams contested the charge but was given a four-week suspension by the independent disciplinary panel comprising Jeremy Summers (chair) with Mitch Read and Tony Wheat. The player is free to play again on December 7.

In the written judgment it was reported that in the evidence provided by Bath player Williams that “he was clear his bicep had contacted with Gopperth’s shoulder because he had noticed a ‘corker’ on his bicep that had resulted from the incident. 

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“He did not feel that he had come into contact with Gopperth’s head or neck at any time and he had not grasped Gopperth in a headlock. He had effected a very dominant clear out and Gopperth had gone straight backwards. At no point had he acted illegally and he had attempted to wrap.

“In response to questions from the panel, the player indicated that he had changed his technique to address the new laws relating to head contact. It was put to him that that the action he had deployed to clear out Gopperth was high risk and highly dangerous. In response, he stated that he had practised the technique at low speed.

“The player had given clear evidence that he had not made contact with Gopperth’s head and should be viewed as a credible witness. There was nothing in the footage that allowed the panel to discount his evidence. The rearview angle, in particular, supported the player’s case that contact was bicep to shoulder. There was insufficient evidence to safely conclude that there had been contact with Gopperth’s head.”

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However, the panel went on to make the following findings which included: “The player’s right bicep initially struck the left-hand side of Gopperth’s face, and the player’s position that the contact had been with the shoulder was rejected.

“The player’s right forearm had then hooked up and made contact with the neck and/or chin of Gopperth and the player’s defence that he had hooked across Gopperth’s chest was similarly rejected. The contact with the head involved a high degree of force and a high degree of danger.

“After careful consideration, the panel was satisfied that the player had been attempting to lawfully clear out Gopperth, as demonstrated by his actions. He had, however, committed to a high-risk technique which he had then executed imperfectly.”

With no mitigation applied to the four-week entry point, Williams will now miss this weekend’s Bath Premiership match versus Leicester, the Premiership Cup game against Gloucester and the Premiership game versus Exeter. However, he can become available for the fourth game of his sanction, the December 4 league game versus Northampton, if he successfully completes a tackle school intervention. Tackle school was something recently undertaken by Sale’s Rohan Janse van Rensburg.

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Regarding kit manager Middleton, he accepted the charge and was given a one-match suspension by the same independent disciplinary panel. This prevents him from attending next weekend’s game in any capacity other than a spectator. Middleton also needs to deliver a presentation to the non-playing members of staff at Bath on the need to uphold standards and the core values of the game by December 2. 

“The kit manager accepted the charge of misconduct brought against him and apologised for his behaviour. The panel considered that a period of suspension was required, consistent with other recent decisions and that a strong message needed to be issued to the game. There is a growing problem with the conduct of non-playing personnel and disciplinary panels will not hesitate in taking strong action to combat this.”

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