Chris Ashton’s turbulent year took another grim twist as the England and Saracens wing was given a 13-week ban for biting, seemingly driving a fresh nail into the coffin of his international career.
Ashton was cited for two incidents involving Alex Waller that unfolded in the first half of Saturday’s 27-12 Aviva Premiership victory over Northampton and, although the second charge was dismissed, the first was upheld.
The 29-year-old is free to play again on the December 19, but disciplinary lapses in 2016 have seen miss almost six months of the year having already been banned in February for 10 weeks for making contact with the eye area of Ulster’s Luke Marshall.
Ashton was alleged to have bitten Waller for the first time in 24th minute and then on a second occasion one minute later.
He contested both counts of an offence that carries an entry-point sanction of 12 weeks, but, after five and a half hours, the Rugby Football Union disciplinary hearing held in London on Tuesday evening found him guilty for the earlier of the two infringements.
The chairman of the panel, Philip Evans QC, said: “Having considered detailed evidence, the panel concluded that during the course of a ruck Chris Ashton bit the arm of Alex Waller at a time that Mr Waller was attempting to clear him out.
“The panel concluded it was a low-end entry point aggravated by his previous record.”
It is another sorry development for Ashton in a year that has been blighted by disciplinary issues.
In January he had been recalled by new England head coach Eddie Jones after spending 18 months in the international wilderness, only to surrender his place in the squad when he was found to have raked his hands across Marshall’s face.
There was considerable sympathy felt for Ashton on that occasion due to the draconian level of the sanction for a seemingly innocuous incident, but outside of Allianz Park there will be little compassion felt following this latest controversy.
His international prospects were already looking bleak, having been omitted from England’s senior squad for their tour of Australia and then deciding to reject a place on the Saxons’ trip to South Africa in June.
He was overlooked by Jones for his provisional 45-man elite-player squad named late last month and was almost certain to miss out when virtually the same group is confirmed on Friday week.
This latest setback will see him slip further down the pecking order, with Jones wary of a player whose notoriety is growing.