Rugby Championship
Michael Hooper free to face All Blacks
ESPN Staff
July 30, 2015
Michael Hooper © Getty Images

Michael Hooper has been suspended for one week after he was found guilty of punching or striking Nicolas Sanchez in the Wallabies' Test against Argentina in Mendoza, but he is free to play for Australia against New Zealand in the first Bledisloe Cup Test in Sydney.

Hooper will serve his ban in Sydney's Premier Rugby grade competition, having been named among the Manly reserves for the Marlins' Shute Shield quarter-final against Randwick on Saturday.

Nigel Hampton QC , the SANZAR judicial officer who heard the hearing noted "evidence was submitted and confirmed in the hearing that Hooper and other players who needed game time would be made available and scheduled to play on the weekend of 1 August 2015 … I was officially advised in written form by all parties that if Hooper was available, he would play in this match. I was also advised that other players were being made available to their clubs which I accepted.

Argentina 9-34 Australia (Australia only)

"I found this match could not be considered inconsequential and would have meaningful consequence for Hooper given his current competition and rotation within the Australian squad. The player has a close allegiance to the Manly club who have an important match this weekend and he expressed his desire to play in the match following the Argentina v Australia match. Under Regulation 17, all matches are equal and if a player is scheduled to play, then the match should be included in the suspension if it has meaningful consequence to the player."

Hooper was cited after the 59th-minute incident in Mendoza, and Hampton said he "considered all the evidence before me including a number of videos which showed additional angles of the incident, medical reports for the Argentina fly-half, Nicolas Sanchez, the citing commissioner's report for the incident and submissions made for the player by his legal representative, Anthony Black SC.

"It was submitted on Hooper's behalf that the action he performed was part of an attempt to stop himself being held by Argentina player, Nicolas Sanchez. The action was described as a 'push with an open hand' and not a punch. It was submitted that this action was similar to a fend by a ball carrier attempting to stop himself from being tackled. It was also submitted that the offence could not be made out as a strike because the law specifically lists the offences as the use of a fist, arm or elbow but not an open hand.

Hampton rejected that submission but noted that "video supports Hooper's account of events that he was grabbed intentionally by Sanchez, who maintained contact as he moved behind Hooper, causing him to become unbalanced, rotate around and effectively run backwards. This action was done to prevent Hooper from supporting a team-mate who had the ball and was running towards the goal line. If Hooper was not held in this way, he could have supported his team-mate in a number of ways so that his team could potentially score.

"Hooper tried to extricate himself from the hold when he wasn't released by Sanchez. The actions of Sanchez while deliberate, illegal and an act of considerable provocation, do not allow for retaliation in an illegal way including striking the opponent. Hooper's account and the video support the notion that he did not punch the opponent in the face. However, it matters not where a strike lands on an opponent if there was indeed a strike.

"It was found that Hooper, in circumstances of considerable frustration and in order to try and rid himself of his opponent, drew back his free right arm and, voluntarily using additional momentum over and above that given to him by the actions of his opponent, struck out at the opponent's head and neck area with his open hand, making contact with the back of the opponent's neck and head with considerable, and intentional, force.

Hampton found Hooper guilty of striking, with the offence at lower end entry point that stipulates a two-week suspension.

"I found no aggravating factors to be present but did find a number of mitigating factors including Hooper's good character and repute along with his good disciplinary record. On that basis, the maximum allowed reduction of 50% was given to the Player, reducing the period of suspension to one week."

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