Chris Ashton free for Leicester’s semi with Sale after red card is overturned

Chris Ashton has been cleared for Leicester’s Gallagher Premiership play-off semi-final against Sale after his red card was reduced to a yellow following a disciplinary hearing.

The 36-year-old former England wing was sent off for a high tackle on Harlequins’ Cadan Murley during Leicester’s 20-17 defeat on the final day of the regular league season.

Ashton, the Premiership’s record try-scorer, is set to retire at the end of the campaign, but if the suspension had been upheld, his hopes of featuring in a potential Premiership final at Twickenham on May 27 would have been over.

An independent disciplinary panel heard the appeal, which lasted five hours during which numerous angles of the tackle were shown, many having been not available to the referee and the match officials at the game. Ashton and Murley also gave evidence.

Panel chair Gareth Graham said: “Mr Ashton accepted committing an act of foul play that would have merited a yellow card.

“Having seen and heard all the evidence, including that of Mr Murley, who gave a clear account as to the point of contact and the level of force involved in the tackle, the panel agreed with the submission that this was a yellow card offence.”

The panel also considered what the degree of danger was in the tackle, concluding there was indirect contact to the head and that any force to the head or neck was low.

Graham added in a statement: “Consequently, the panel concluded that there was not a high degree of danger and that the correct starting point under the Head Contact Process was a yellow card.

“Therefore, the panel found the charge not proven. Mr Ashton is thereby able to play with immediate effect.”