Tuesday 20 March 2018

Clark ban provides Lancaster with first England challenge

STUART LANCASTER'S first full day as permanent England coach will have thrown up a swift test of his man-management skills after a young member of his squad was handed an eight-month ban for breaking an opponent's arm.

His reputation as a strict disciplinarian, and ability to deliver fair judgement, will come into sharp focus after Northampton Saints flanker Calum Clark was hit with a 32-week penalty yesterday.

Clark's ban was dished out after the 22-year-old member of England’s Six Nations squad admitted hyper-extending the right arm of Leicester hooker Rob Hawkins during the LV=Cup final two weeks ago.

It comes in the same week as England hooker Dylan Hartley (pictured) was banned for eight weeks for biting and international scrum-half Ben Youngs was suspended for a week by Leicester for striking an opponent.

All eyes will now be on how Lancaster handles the fallout. Twickenham's rugby chiefs turned to Lancaster as a stop-gap measure in December after Martin Johnson quit following England's disastrous World Cup campaign. Yesterday, he was appointed to the post on a full-time basis.

His resolve to instil a new culture of discipline will come under the microscope, but any action will likely wait until Clark decides whether or not to exercise an appeal.

Northampton supported their player last night, and expressed disappointment at the severity of the RFU punishment.

The injured Hawkins had surgery earlier this week and is expected to be ruled out for the rest of the season.

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