Cueto back in business

Mark Cueto will be the most relieved and motivated player among the 42 who turn-up for England's World Cup training camp at Twickenham Stadium this week. [more]

Cueto back in business

Mark Cueto will be the most relieved and motivated player among the 42 who turn-up for England’s World Cup training camp at Twickenham Stadium this week.

The 2005 British & Irish Lions wing saw his rugby life flash before his eyes when he was charged with a disciplinary offence following a game between his Sale Sharks side and Northampton Saints at the start of April.

The seriousness of the charge – “making contact with the eye or eye area” – after his clash with Saints lock Christian Day left one of the stars of England’s RBS 6 Nations Championship triumph facing a potential 18 week ban that would have ended his dreams of playing in a second World Cup.

Cueto’s initial view of his clash with Day was that it was nothing worse than “a few handbags”, but once he saw the freeze-frame evidence he could see he was in hot water. His hand was clearly seen in the face of Day and the wording of the charge meant he had little option other than to plead guilty.

“I could have faced a ban for up to three years,” Cueto admitted in an interview with the Daily Telegraph. “I knew I hadn’t done anything, but I was ******* myself.

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“It was deemed a level two offence, which is a minimum ban of 18 weeks up to one year. When I heard that my heart dropped.

“I had to go in there and plead guilty to a charge because of the wording. If they had charged me with eye gouging, I would have said ‘no, 100 per cent’, but because they said it was contact with the face and eye area, I couldn’t deny that.

“It was a nightmare, it was horrible. My big fear was that they would give me a game ban. I only had three games until the end of the season, three warm-up games and then the World Cup, so if they had banned me for 10 games, it was all over.”

As it was he received an 18 week ban that was reduced to nine weeks after Day wrote a letter backing him and England manager Martin Johnson also pleaded on his behalf. He missed Sale’s relegation battle, but was able to keep his World Cup dreams alive.

In fact, the ban did him a small favour because it gave him the time to have a scan on a niggling knee injury that has now been rectified through surgery.

“There was a bit of cartilage flapping and I needed an operation. The surgeons said when I had the consultation that if I hadn’t sorted it out, the volume and intensity of what we are going to do in the warm-up camp would have massively irritated it and potentially made it worse,” added Cueto, who is an ambassador for Multipower Sportsfood.

“The nightmare scenario for me was to get two or three weeks into the camp and realise it was a 12-week injury and ruining my World Cup. Looking back now, if I hadn’t been banned, anything could have happened, not just my knee.

“I could have broken a leg or dislocated my shoulder. Sale have stayed up, which is the most important and I am now fitter than I would have been if I hadn’t been banned. In a crazy, roundabout way, things have panned out quite well for me.”

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