Ulster to decide today whether to appeal Payne’s two-week ban
Province awaiting written report before making a decision
Currently Payne, who qualifies for Ireland via residency next season, is banned from playing in Friday’s provincial derby against Connacht at Ravenhill and away to Glasgow on April 18th.
Thomas upheld Jerome Garces’ fifth-minute red card despite evidence and submissions from Ulster manager David Millar and Humphreys at yesterday’s hearing in Dublin.
ERC disciplinary officer Roger O’Connor made the case against Payne and in support of Garces’ decision.
“The judicial officer determined that Payne had committed a reckless act and concluded that the offence was at the low end of the IRB sanctions for offences of this nature and selected three weeks as the appropriate entry point,” read an ERC statement.
“As there were no aggravating factors, and taking into account the player’s clean disciplinary record and his exemplary conduct at the hearing, the judicial officer reduced the sanction by the maximum of one week and imposed a suspension of two weeks.
“[Thomas] commented that the case had been a particularly challenging one and conveyed his thanks to the Ulster Rugby representatives for the quality of their defence during the hearing.”
The incident has divided opinion and is uncannily similar to Ronan O’Gara’s mid-air collision with Fourie du Preez in the closing stages of the Lions versus South Africa second Test at Loftus Versfeld in 2009. Another French referee, Christophe Berdos, awarded nothing more than a penalty.
Ulster, who are currently three points adrift of second-placed Munster in the Pro12 table, are currently planning to play at least two of their last four regular season matches without Payne, Rory Best, John Afoa, Ruan Pienaar, Andrew Trimble, Dan Tuohy and Roger Wilson.
Cian Healy, meanwhile, is one player, despite two ankle operations since last summer, who feels his body is fully equipped to complete the season for Leinster.
“I just strap them up and try to keep ‘em tight,” said Healy. “It’s only a bit of swelling that’s coming back from old injuries so once I’m looking after myself, I’m all good.
“I’ve been given my time off. I’ve been asked how I feel leading into the big games. I’m feeling good going into the rest of the season.”