Sam Dickson's closest supporters are adamant he is not a dirty player but Gordon Tietjens won't appeal his ban from next month's IRB sevens tournament in Wellington.
Despite New Zealand coach Tietjens revealing Canterbury's Dickson almost broke down in tears when cited for making "reckless" contact with a Fijian player's face in the final pool game in Las Vegas last weekend, he defended the decision to not appeal the nine-game suspension.
Tietjens said there was little point fighting the ban, maintaining that even if the suspension was reduced the 24-year-old would only be eligible for a couple of games in Wellington on February 7-8.
"Sam was just devastated - he basically broke down," Tietjens said yesterday when his player was told he had been cited.
Tietjens believed Dickson was in self-defence mode but added the IRB rules were clear about the risks players took when tampering with an opponent's face.
"From what I saw he was on the ground trying to look after himself. The penalty has been given and we have to punch on, really."
Now Tietjens, who watched South Africa beat New Zealand 14-7 in the Las Vegas final yesterday and overtake his team at the top of the competition log, wants to select a fully available squad for the whole tournament.
Dickson, who told Tietjens he couldn't even recall the incident, had no input into the decision.
Although emphatic this had nothing to do with eye-gouging, Tietjens said to go near a player's face is to risk a lengthy suspension.
"When you look at the footage, I suppose his hand is on the other [player's] face trying to free himself if you like. There was no intent from Sam."
Dickson, who also plays loose forward for the West Melton club, was not available to comment before the team left the United States.
However, the accusations of foul play have enraged his family and friends.
Dickson's father, Chris, has watched repeated replays of that game and struggled to find an incident that would warrant a second look.
"I just can't believe it - it's not in his makeup," Chris Dickson said.
Although he had not spoken to Sam when Press contacted him yesterday, he said his son had denied the charge on Facebook.
The Dickson family were upset about reports of the charge being an eye-gouge.
"There's a big difference. That's pretty rough - it totally sucks," Chris Dickson said. "I feel for Sam. This is shattering."
Nicholas Dierck, who coached Sam at West Melton, said he was in disbelief when he heard the allegations.
"I was gobsmacked, just dumbfounded by it. I have never even seen him throw a punch. He's one of the hardest, but cleanest, players I know.
"He will be absolutely devastated by this. He has got a head on his shoulders that is well beyond his years and this just blows me away."
Dickson's parents rarely get the chance to see their son play in New Zealand and have already booked tickets to the Wellington tournament.
The first they knew of the ban was when they tuned into watch yesterday's semifinal on TV and the commentators revealed Sam couldn't play because of his suspension.
Tietjens added he had no problem with the two-match suspension handed to George Tilsley in the Fiji game, but they were shocked by Dickson's punishment.
"Sam's is the one we thought wouldn't go anywhere near the suspension he got. We didn't think he'd be suspended, to be fair."
- The Dominion Post
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