Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton could be forced into an early retirement by a 24-week ban, City A.M. has learned.
That is the mid-range sanction Sexton is facing if found guilty of threatening match officials at the end of Leinster’s European Champions Cup final defeat by La Rochelle last month.
Sexton has been accused of three disciplinary breaches, the most serious of which relates to section 9.28 of European rugby’s rulebook, which reads: “A player must not use threatening actions or words towards Match Officials”.
Sexton five-year ban?
If found guilty, an independent panel could impose a maximum five-year ban for this offence but that is understood to be unlikely. If found guilty only of a low-end offence, Sexton would still face a 12-week ban, which would effectively rule him out of this year’s World Cup.
As City A.M. revealed on Monday, European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) wrote to Sexton and Leinster last week to ask for their response to the allegations, which relate to an incident on the field after the final whistle.
Sources suggest Sexton’s reputation for calling officials’ decisions into question may be taken into consideration.
While the bans are issued in weeks rather than matches, is understood that any disciplinary panel will use the relevant laws of the game – usually focused on on-field matters but also used to guide off-field matters – to impose caveats which ensure that Sexton is banned for meaningful matches rather than empty weeks.
Even a halved 24-week ban for Sexton in this case would rule him out of the World Cup and likely enforce an early retirement, given that are just 10 meaningful matches between now and a potential World Cup final. The 37-year-old had earmarked the tournament in France to be his farewell to the game.
Sexton could face a lesser charge of disrespecting match officials rather than using “threatening” words but much of the charge will depend on the evidence given by referee Jaco Peyper and touch officials Karl Dickson and Christophe Ridley. He could miss the warm-ups and three pool matches.
Given the panel is independent, it is not known what charge they’ll aim to slap Sexton with but City A.M. understands that there is appetite among the EPCR and members of the refereeing community to bring the strongest possible sanction given the evidence.
Any panel will then be able to list which matches Sexton can be banned for, given there may be a chance for the No10 to play friendlies that count as meaningful.
Former All Black Sonny Bill Williams used a local game as one of his meaningful matches to reduce an international ban by one match in 2017 – and though this loophole is closed there remain concerns of similar happening in the future.
Ireland play three warm-up matches before they head to France for four pool matches.