Jack Nowell will be available for Exeter’s Heineken Champions Cup semi-final against La Rochelle after escaping a ban for the misconduct charge arising from his criticism of a referee on social media.
Nowell was charged with conduct prejudicial to the interests of the Rugby Football Union and the game after his Chiefs team-mate Olly Woodburn received a second yellow card in Sunday’s 62-19 Gallagher Premiership defeat against Leicester.
Woodburn had dived on Chris Ashton on the floor and upon seeing referee Karl Dickson’s decision, Nowell said in a since-deleted tweet: “I’m actually in shock, like shock shocked. What the hell is happening? That’s one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen. EVER.”
The England wing accepted the charge at a disciplinary hearing on Wednesday night and was issued a £10,000 fine, meaning he is free to take part in the European showdown with champions La Rochelle in Bordeaux on April 30.
The fine will be donated to a charity and Nowell, who has just recovered from the knee injury that forced him to sit out the Leicester game, must also undertake a referees’ course.
Having earlier been sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on, Woodburn was sent off by Dickson for a second yellow card offence awarded for diving on Ashton in an attempt to prevent a try.
Other injured Exeter players also used social media to vent their frustration, with Luke Cowan-Dickie tweeting that “rugby had lost the plot” while Henry Slade said “I have no words”.
However, in a statement explaining the disciplinary panel’s verdict it was made clear that Dickson had made the right call.
“World Rugby has confirmed that professional match official, Karl Dickson, correctly applied the law during the Leicester Tigers v Exeter Chiefs game which saw the penalty try and a yellow card awarded,” the statement read.
“Law 13.4 is clear that players cannot fall on or over players on the ground and tackle law 14.8 says arriving players at a tackle must come from the direction of their own goal line and stay on their feet.”
By avoiding a suspension Nowell will be able to take in Exeter’s run-in headlined by their push for European honours – his final games for the club before departing for the Top 14 next season.
Panel chairman Matthew O’Grady said: “Debate about on-field decisions by players and officials is an inevitable part of rugby union and professional rugby players have the right to express themselves about the sport they play.
“However, they are not free from the consequences of such expression when it breaches their professional obligation not to act prejudicially to the interests of the game by disrespecting match officials, their decisions and their authority – not least when that expression contributes to a ‘pile on’ of public comment about a match official or match officials.
“Respect for match officials – even if we disagree with their decisions, indeed especially if we disagree with their decisions – is a core part of rugby union. It is not a value that we can turn on and off when we choose.
“Mr Nowell accepted his tweet, which was viewed many hundreds of thousands of times, was not fair comment and crossed the line of what is acceptable by a person with his considerable status in the game.”
Saracens centre Duncan Taylor will be available for the Gallagher Premiership semi-finals on May 13 after receiving a ban reduced to two weeks if he completes tackle school.
Taylor was sent off for a dangerous challenge in the eighth minute of Saturday’s 38-29 defeat by Northampton and is unavailable for the last two fixtures of the regular season against London Irish and Bath.