London: Injury-hit England’s problems intensified on Thursday when Wasps No. 8 Nathan Hughes was given an extended six-week ban, missing three November Tests, after slamming a disciplinary hearing as a “joke” on Twitter.
Hughes’s case, following a citing for punching Gloucester’s Lewis Ludlow in the English Premiership on October 6, was adjourned after the back-row forward tweeted “what a joke” during the initial hearing on October 10.
That led officials to add two weeks to what had been an original four-week suspension, meaning Hughes is now set to miss the Twickenham Tests against South Africa (November 3), New Zealand (November 10) and Japan (November 17).
The Fiji-born 27-year-old, who has played 17 Tests, is free to resume playing on November 20 — four days before England face Australia at Twickenham.
His ban by the Rugby Football Union was made public after another marathon hearing produced a ruling published at 1:00am local time (0000 GMT) on Thursday.
That was just some eight-and-a-half hours before England coach Eddie Jones was due to name his squad for the November internationals.
Hughes had been set to start against South Africa given fellow back-rows Billy Vunipola, Sam Simmonds and Chris Robshaw are all among a lengthy list of players ruled out of the November series through injury.
His ban could now leave England fielding a back-row against the Springboks with fewer than 10 caps between them.
Bath’s Zach Mercer could now start at No. 8 instead of Hughes.
Disciplinary panel chairman Gareth Graham, in a lengthy RFU statement, explained why Hughes’s tweet had led to an increased ban.
“Where the player had previously been given credit for a guilty plea, remorse and good conduct, the panel found that mitigation had been given on a false premise,” he said.
“On the basis of this new evidence, the panel did not consider that the player warranted any reduction by way of mitigation. There was, therefore, no reason to reduce the sanction from the mandatory entry point of six weeks.”
Hughes was cited for punching Ludlow in the head while being pinned to the floor by the Gloucester flanker in the final minute of Wasps’ 35-21 home defeat in Coventry.
The tweet led to an additional charge of “conduct prejudicial to the interests of the union and/or the game”, to which Hughes pleaded guilty.