The NSW Waratahs are set to appeal the multi-week suspensions of forwards Tolu Latu and Will Skelton after expressing surprise and disappointment at the outcome of their judicial hearings on Monday.
Hooker Latu and lock Skelton were suspended for four and two weeks respectively after each were found guilty of an illegal lifting tackle on Crusaders and All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock in last Saturday’s Super Rugby game in Sydney.
Latu, who received a yellow card at the time, lifted Whitelock’s legs while Skelton had his upper body and threw him to the ground.
Both men were cited for alleged foul play after the citing Commissioner deemed the incident had met the red card threshold.
South African based judicial hearing chairman Robert Stelzner SC considered video footage, the citing commissioner’s report, medical information for Whitelock and the submissions by the players legal representatives, Anthony Black SC and Bruce Hodgkinson.
The suspensions would rule both Latu and Skelton out of the Australian conference-leading Waratahs matches in South Africa against the Lions and Cheetahs over the next two weekends.
Latu would also miss the final round match against Queensland and the first week of the finals, if NSW play that week.
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika was reportedly emotional about the decisions.
“Without going into lengthy detail on the hearing, the fact that our legal representatives have recommended that we appeal these decisions speaks for itself,” Waratahs CEO Greg Harris said in a statement.
“We would not be intending to pursue this course of action unless we were of the opinion that both players were entitled to have their situations reconsidered by the appeal committee.
“Our intentions are to appeal the decision, however we will wait until we receive the written report from SANZAR before doing so.”
Skelton will travel with the team to South Africa on Tuesday, while if Latu’s suspension stands, Hugh Roach, who has played just five games for the Waratahs will start against the Lions.
His backup would probably be uncapped Dave Porecki, a hooker with Sydney club Manly.
First-choice hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau is currently recovering from his second bout of concussion this season.
Stelzner determined both Skelton and Latu had committed a lifting tackle, which stipulates a four-week suspension.
He said mitigating circumstances including clean disciplinary records, youthfulness and character references resulted in two weeks being taken of both suspensions, but he added two more weeks to Latu’s punishment as a deterrent
“For this type of offending, as it is an action that has sought to be eliminated from the game,” Stelzner said in a SANZAR statement
He said Latu played a more dominant role in the tackle, being more active in the lifting and twisting of Whitelock and contributed more significantly to the end result.
“Skelton nevertheless also lifted and twisted Whitelock in the tackle, which is why he too was found to have breached the applicable law,” Stelzner said.
“Given the lesser extent of his involvement however, the sanction in the case of Skelton did not in my view warrant an increase from the entry level sanction to serve as a deterrent.”