Calum Clark is 'not a thug' says RFU disciplinary officer Jeff Blackett

This article is more than 9 years old
Player 'did not intend to harm' Leicester's Rob Hawkins
Northampton to consider appeal against 32-week ban
Calum Clark, Northampton
Calum Clark said that he felt 'in a fog' for the rest of the game against Leicester after what he had done to Rob Hawkins. Photograph: Paul Harding/Action Images
Calum Clark said that he felt 'in a fog' for the rest of the game against Leicester after what he had done to Rob Hawkins. Photograph: Paul Harding/Action Images
Press Association
Fri 30 Mar 2012 11.16 EDT

English rugby's disciplinary chief has said that the Northampton forward Calum Clark is "not a thug", after suspending him until November.

Judge Jeff Blackett took a dim view of Clark's actions during the LV Cup final defeat against Leicester two weeks ago, however, when he hyper-extended the Tigers hooker Rob Hawkins's arm. It left Hawkins with a broken elbow and requiring surgery, sidelining him for the rest of this season.

Clark's suspension of 32 weeks is among the longest handed out to a senior English player during rugby union's 16-and-a-half-year professional era. It has emerged in the hearing's written judgment, which was released on Friday by the Rugby Football Union, that Clark said he played the rest of the final "in a fog" after realising what he had done.

"I realised what I had done – put my hand to my mouth. I knew I was responsible, and played rest of game in a fog," said Clark . "After the game I was approached by their [Leicester's] coach who made it clear what he thought. For me, the result of the game was insignificant. I am physical and aggressive, but always play within the laws of the game. It has been hard to deal with how others now think of me as a player."

Clark sought out Hawkins after the final to apologise, but that was not well-received, and he now intends writing a letter of apology. In his judgment, Blackett, the RFU's disciplinary officer, said: "The offending was intentional. The player clearly intended to pull Hawkins' arm backwards after the whistle had been blown so that the ball became available and his side could play the ball quickly.

"I accept that he did not intend to harm Hawkins or cause him injury. I come to that conclusion because the player is not known as one who commits foul play, and by the way he presented and expressed himself at the hearing. He is not a thug and presented as a genuine young man who was prepared to, and accepted, responsibility for his actions and their consequences.

"I assessed that this offence was high on the scale of seriousness, not least because the player intentionally bent a vulnerable opponent's arm backwards causing a very severe injury, and he did so after the referee had blown his whistle to stop play.

"In assessing it as serious, I would like to stress that I accept that the player is not malicious and did not intend to cause serious injury. Although he did intend to pull Hawkins' arm backwards, he did so in an attempt to move Hawkins away from the ball in his eagerness to maintain his side's momentum."

In deciding the length of suspension, Blackett said there were no precedents to assist him. "Had there been any evidence that the player intended to hurt an opponent [even if he did not mean to injure him] the appropriate entry point would have been in the order of five years' suspension," Blackett added.

"That is not the case here, so the entry point can be considerably lower. The player must be suspended for a good deal longer than Hawkins is absent from the game to reflect the seriousness of the offending.

"To a certain extent, the entry point depends on my view of the offending, and its effect on the game, based on my rugby experience. It is certainly worse than the worst sort of punch, which might attract a maximum suspension of 52 weeks, so it must be longer than that period.

"In calculating the entry point I have therefore taken that figure and added to it the length of time Hawkins is likely to be absent through injury – that is 12 weeks.

"In those circumstances I have determined that the entry point should be 64 weeks. There are no aggravating features and all of the standard mitigating factors are present.

"The player is genuinely contrite, he realises the damage done to an individual and to the wider image of the game, he admitted culpability at the earliest opportunity and he undoubtedly wishes to make reparation for his offending."

"He is, therefore, entitled to 50% discount from that entry point, which leads me to conclude that the appropriate sanction is a suspension of 32 weeks."

Northampton, who suspended Clark indefinitely following his citing, say they are "bound to consider the merits of an appeal". Saints have until midday next Tuesday to lodge any protest.