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Test duo Willemse and Nicotera cop bans following Challenge Cup

By Ian Cameron
Montpellier's South African lock Paul Willemse reacts as he scores a try during the French Top 14 rugby union match between Montpellier Herault Rugby and Union Sportive Oyonnax Rugby at The GGL Stadium in Montpellier, southern France on November 25, 2023. (Photo by Sylvain THOMAS / AFP) (Photo by SYLVAIN THOMAS/AFP via Getty Images)

Montpellier Herault second-row Paul Willemse has received a suspension after an independent Disciplinary Hearing related to his actions in the EPCR Challenge Cup, Round of 16 match against Ulster Rugby at GGL Stadium last weekend.

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The 6’7, 130kg plus forward was sent off by referee Ben Whitehouse in the 41st minute for a dangerous tackle on Ulster’s Will Addison.

The France lock’s act was found to contravene Law 9.13 and was deemed a ‘dangerous and reckless’ challenge.

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Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi on the next generation of stars at the Sharks

Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi believes the Sharks are proving that they can build depth with the youngsters that they have in the system.

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Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi on the next generation of stars at the Sharks

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The independent Disciplinary Committee – after reviewing evidence and hearing from various representatives including Willemse – upheld the red card decision, classifying the offence as mid-range which typically warrants a six-week suspension.

Considering Willemse’s guilty plea, the sanction was reduced to five weeks.

The specifics of Willemse’s suspension period are affected by his current injury status and as such will be clarified in due course. Both Willemse and the EPCR have the right to appeal should they wish.

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Meanwhile, Benetton hooker Giacomo Nicotera has been handed a three-week suspension after being sent off for a dangerous clear-out during the EPCR Challenge Cup match against the Emirates Lions.

The offence – involving dangerous contact with the Lions’ Darrien Landsberg – violated Law 9.20b concerning dangerous play in a ruck.

The independent Judicial Officer Matthew O’Grady decided on a mid-range offence, initially setting the suspension at four weeks but reduced it to three weeks following Nicotera’s guilty plea and clean disciplinary record.

Nicotera’s suspension concludes on 29 April 2024, but he has the opportunity to return a week earlier if he completes a World Rugby Coaching Intervention. Both Nicotera and the EPCR may appeal this decision.

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Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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