Harlequins prop Kyle Sinckler has been banned for seven weeks after being found guilty of intentionally making contact with the eye of Saints lock Michael Paterson during last Saturday’s game at Franklin’s Gardens.
The incident occurred during the second half of the Aviva Premiership match, which Saints won 30-22, with Paterson so incensed that he asked referee Luke Pearce to seek the advice of the television match official.
No conclusive evidence of a gouge could be found at the time and Sinckler escaped, only conceding a penalty for removing the scrum cap of Paterson.
But on Sunday, the 24-year-old was cited by independent citing commissioner Chris Catling and he attended a hearing in Bristol on Tuesday evening.
Sinckler accepted the charge of contact with the eye and was given a seven-week suspension by the independent disciplinary panel.
He is now free to play again on November 21.
Dan White, the chairman of the disciplinary panel, said: “The panel heard evidence from the player as to his actions. They found that it was an intentional action but that due to the absence of injury it merited a low-end entry point.
“The player has not got a clear record because of a suspension in 2015 and so the panel could not give full mitigation.
“The player will therefore be suspended for seven weeks and is free to play again on November 21, 2017.”
Harlequins quickly issued a statement, in which Sinckler apologised to his team-mates, but insisted he did not intentionally gouge Paterson.
“I accept the outcome of the hearing and wanted to go on record to say I am sorry that I have let my team-mates down, but more importantly I feel terrible that anyone would think I would deliberately gouge an opponent,” Sinckler said.
“That was never my intention - it was a genuine mistake and an act of recklessness on my part.
“I will spend the next seven weeks working hard on my fitness and rugby to ensure that when I am able to get back on the field I am fit and ready to do so and make the best possible contribution to Quins.”
Harlequins boss John Kingston issued a defence of his player.
“Despite Kyle’s unfair public reputation he actually has a very good on-field disciplinary record,” Kingston said.
“There is no doubt in my mind that this incident was accidental, but both myself, and as a club, we fully accept the importance of player welfare and believe wholeheartedly that there is no place for any players’ hand ever to be around the eye area of an opponent.
“We therefore accept the sanction and will be working with the whole squad around improving our discipline over the coming matches.”