Crusaders prop Owen Franks has been banned for two weeks for striking an opponent in Saturday's clash with the Highlanders in Dunedin.
The SANZAR Duty Judicial Officer Robert Stelzner SC accepted a guilty plea from Franks for contravening Law 10.4 (a) Punching or striking, after he was cited following a Super Rugby match at the weekend.
Franks has been suspended from all forms of the game up to and including 8 March.
The incident occurred in the 10th minute of the match at the Forsyth Barr Stadium.
SANZAR Duty Judicial Officer Robert Stelzner SC assessed the case.
In his finding, Stelzner ruled the following:
"As the Duty Judicial Officer, I considered all of the evidence before me including the video footage, Citing Commissioner's report and the submissions of Mr Aaron Lloyd made on behalf of the player.
"After taking all relevant facts of the incident into consideration, I found the incident to have a lower end entry point for breaches of 10.4 (a) Punching or striking which stipulates a two week suspension.
"The player submitted that he was attempting to remove the Highlanders player from the wrong side of maul. His intention was to remove the player, who was quite bigger than him, by grabbing him around the chest which would require some force, then using his bodyweight to attempt to force his opponent down and away from the ball.
"The player conceded that in these attempts, he struck his opponent with his arm in a careless way, but there was no malice intended.
"I concluded that while the offending was not intentional, the player's actions were reckless in his attempts to remove the opponent from the maul. Aggravating factors involved were that there were two instances of a strike, with the second being the more reckless than the first along with the opponent being in a somewhat vulnerable position with some risk of injury.
"I added one week to the suspension as a result of these factors. This was then reduced by one week due to mitigating factors including the player's admission of culpability and making concessions where required for his actions, the player has had an extensive career at Super Rugby and Test level with no suspensions to his name.
"After taking all these factors into consideration, I found that a suspension of two weeks was warranted which was accepted by the player."
The suspension means Franks will sit out the Saturday's clash against the Chiefs in Hamilton, which is followed by a bye although he was due to play for the Christchurch-based franchise's development team, the Knights, that weekend.
Stelzner said he accepted Franks was set to play for the Knights the weekend of the bye, and that it would be also included in the suspension period.
"The player's playing schedule is such that the Crusaders have a match against the Chiefs on 28 February followed by a bye in which the Crusaders Knights have a match in which the player was scheduled to play.," he added.
"I asked for direct evidence from the head coach as to the history of Crusaders players being used in the Knights matches and whether other players would also be scheduled to play.
"The Crusaders Knights program is used by the Crusaders to give players additional games during bye weeks and I received confirmation that a number of other players, including other All Blacks, were going to be used in the Knights game which has been scheduled since January.
"I accepted this match to be included in the suspension period to make a meaningful sanction for the player.
"Accordingly, the player is suspended for two weeks up to and including 8 March 2015."