England wing Chris Ashton has been banned for seven weeks after his red card for a tip tackle in Sale Sharks’ pre-season friendly against Castres.
The 31-year-old did not accept the charge for the tackle on Castres scrum-half Rory Kockott, but was found guilty by the independent panel process.
Ashton, who joined Sale from Toulon this summer, will miss the first six rounds of the Premiership campaign.
He was named in an England squad for the first time since 2016 on 2 August.
England head coach Eddie Jones will select a further training squad on 20 September, during Ashton’s suspension, although he will be available as he is only suspended from matches.
Ashton was given an extra week on top of the usual six-week penalty for his “poor disciplinary record”.
“It is an important principle of rugby regulation to prevent injury to others,” said independent panel chair Richard Whittam QC.
“Provocation is not a defence to foul play and lifting a player and dropping that player such that his head makes contact with the ground has the potential to cause serious injury.
“While in this case the panel accepts no injury was caused, it still amounted to foul play that clearly met the red card threshold.”
The former Northampton three-quarter’s first appearance for his club side could come in the European Challenge Cup against French Top 14 side Perpignan on 12 October.
Speaking ahead of the verdict, Sale boss Steve Diamond defended Ashton’s actions, saying he was fully justified as his behaviour was in “self defence” amid suggestions of eye-gouging.
“I’d take a red card for any other Sale player if they defended themselves the way Chris Ashton did,” he said.
“If you’re defending yourself on a rugby pitch when things go on and are over and above what we expect, then red mist doesn’t come into it.”