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Fuimaono-Sapolu's future in doubt

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Sportal.co.nz     09 Nov 2011     Getty Images

The 31-year-old Samoan was found guilty of two of three charges of 'conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game' relating to comments made on his Twitter account.

A guilty verdict was expected to invoke a six-month suspended sentence handed down by the International Rugby Board after he also used Twitter to criticise Welsh referee Nigel Owens during the recently concluded World Cup.

But the three-man RFU disciplinary panel instead decided only to ban Fuimaono-Sapolu for three weeks.

Their verdict did, however, indicate that the IRB could yet impose their own sanction to leave the threat of a longer ban hanging over the player.

"Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu of Gloucester Rugby was tonight banned for three weeks after being found guilty of two charges of conduct prejudicial to the interests of the Game contrary to Rule 5.12 of the Rules of the Rugby Football Union," a statement from the RFU read.

"The panel is keen to stress that this decision stands alone and that it is a matter for the IRB to determine whether the actions of Fuimaono-Sapolu constituted a breach of the conditions of that sanction."

Fuimaono-Sapolu's Gloucester contract runs out at the end of the season and the player has already indicated that should a six-month ban be handed down he would ask the club to terminate his deal.

That remains a possibility despite the panel dismissing a charge that he made 'insulting or provocative comments about Owen Farrell' following Gloucester's loss to Saracens nine days ago.

Their decision to uphold the other two charges, however, could provoke the IRB into action.

The IRB warned Fuimaono-Sapolu in September that they would activate the suspended sentence should he 'make any public criticism which results in a proven misconduct offence regarding a match official, the IRB or the disciplinary process - the suspension will be activated immediately'.

And Tuesday's RFU statement continued: "The Panel found that Fuimaono-Sapolu made, or adopted from other users of Twitter, critical or sarcastic comments about the rugby disciplinary process and made, or adopted from other users of Twitter, critical comments about the Rugby World Cup and the International Rugby Board on his Twitter account."

Fuimaono-Sapolu had expected his guilty verdict before the hearing, saying: "I do expect to be banned now, I can't see another outcome.

"Gloucester have been great with me throughout this whole situation, and if it were to come down to a six-month ban, they would not really have much other option than to cancel my contract.

"And I would not stand in their way from that, in fact that would be the right course of action."

The disciplinary panel also banned Worcester wing Miles Benjamin for a week for a dangerous tackle on Wasps' Nicky Robinson during the Aviva Premiership match at Sixways on October 28.

Benjamin pleaded guilty before Daniel White (chair), Mike Curling and John Doubleday, who imposed a suspension from November 8 to 14. He can play again on November 15.

The panel deemed that the offence merited a low-end entry point sanction and gave the player credit for his guilty plea and good record.