Highlanders No 10 Sam Gilbert’s Super Rugby season is over, even in the unlikely event that his team makes the final.
Gilbert was sent off in the 28th minute of the Highlanders’ 32-20 loss at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium on Sunday, after lifting Waratahs No 7 Michael Hooper at a ruck and flipping him over onto his neck-and-head area.
Sanzaar confirmed on Tuesday evening that Gilbert had been suspended for five weeks, up to and including June 25.
The Sanzaar Foul Play Review Committee, which met on Monday evening, deemed the incident “mid-range”, which carries a starting-point sanction of 10 weeks.
However, Gilbert’s ban was cut in half after “mitigating factors”, Sanzaar said in a statement. “Taking into account mitigating factors including the player’s clean judicial record, his acceptance of foul play, the Foul Play Review Committee reduced the suspension to five weeks.”
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Hooper, who has a well-earned reputation for durability, did not receive a head injury assessment after the incident and even scored a fine individual try nine minutes later.
But, he made it clear after the game that he expected Gilbert to serve a ban for the reckless act.
“I don’t wish that on anyone,’’ he told Sky Sport. “These things happen in this game, but I was disappointed that it happened to me.
“He [Gilbert] should miss some weeks I think.”
Tackles that involve dropping or driving a player onto the ground remain relatively uncommon in the game, despite the flurry of red cards seen this year for high contact.
Waratahs prop Angus Bell was sent off for a tip tackle on All Blacks No 7 Sam Cane during the Chiefs’ 51-27 win in round 10, although he was subsequently cleared.
In that instance, the Sanzaar Foul Play Review Committee determined that other players had influenced the end result, and it was therefore not worthy of a red card. Instead, Bell was issued with a warning only.
Gilbert’s ban could not have come at a worse time for the Highlanders. He was excellent in his first outing at No 10 against the Western Force, and Mitch Hunt is currently unavailable because of concussion.
It’s understood that Hunt is jogging again, but he is long-odds to face the Rebels in Melbourne on Sunday.
After Sunday’s 32-20 loss, Highlanders captain Aaron Smith lamented the side’s poor discipline.
“Our discipline again crept up on us,” Smith said. “We just can’t play rugby with 14 men, and we were pretty passive on defence as well for big patches of that game, which is pretty disappointing.”