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Boost for Saracens as Maro Itoje avoids ban for a dangerous tackle
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Boost for Saracens as Maro Itoje avoids ban for a dangerous tackle

Maro Itoje is free to play in Saracens’ Premiership run-in after he escaped a suspension following his citing for a dangerous tackle, a decision which could impact on his availability for England this summer.

Itoje had been cited for his tackle on Alfie Barbeary in the 29th minute of Saracens’ 15-12 win over Bath last Friday. He was sent to the sin-bin at the time by the referee Luke Pearce but the citing officer deemed the offence worthy of a red card.

The disciplinary panel, however, determined that contact with Barbeary’s head “properly be described as more glancing than direct in nature” and dismissed the citing, handing second-placed Saracens a major boost as they seek to successfully defend their title.

It means Itoje is available for Saracens’ final two regular-season matches against Bristol and Sale as well as the playoffs should they qualify. The 29-year-old lock has amassed 2,104 minutes for club and country this season, however, and is closing in on the limit – mandated on player welfare grounds – of 2,400.

Should Saracens make the Premiership final it is feasible that Itoje will reach that limit even before England’s three Tests this summer against Japan and New Zealand, for which Steve Borthwick wants to select his strongest squad possible.

Itoje would not automatically be ruled out of selection by England – or even necessarily have to sit out some of the tour – with the Rugby Football Union insisting that it will work closely with Premiership Rugby, directors of rugby and players to ensure game limits are appropriately managed.

There is also precedent for players exceeding the limit – Freddie Steward did so in the 2021-22 season – but the RFU required special dispensation for him to play in the third Test of that summer’s tour of Australia.

With Saracens just one point ahead of third-place Bath and both Harlequins and Bristol two points behind them in fourth and fifth respectively, they will want one of his most influential players to feature, meaning Steve Borthwick is likely to require similar dispensation this summer. Had Itoje been suspended, the enforced rest would have provided latitude.

“The panel heard and considered evidence from Maro Itoje and the Bath player and were able to examine the footage of the incident many times and from many different angles,” the panel chair Philip Evans KC said.

“In particular, the panel watched the footage from the rear view of Itoje which, when considered alongside the rest of the footage, demonstrated it was more likely than not that contact was not initially with the head or simultaneously with the head and the body. Instead, contact with the head appears to come later and can properly be described as more glancing than direct in nature.

“In all of the circumstances, the panel did not conclude that a high degree of danger was created and therefore the on-field decision stands. The player is free to play with immediate effect.”

Source: theguardian.com