Scott Higginbotham has been banned from the opening two tests of the Wallabies end of year tour against France and England next month after pleading guilty to kneeing and head butting All Blacks captain Richie McCaw in the face during last weekend's Bledisloe Cup stalemate in Brisbane.
The blindside flanker accepted a four-week suspension at a SANZAR judicial hearing which rules him out of Australia's clash with France in Paris on November 10 and the test against England at Twickenham seven days later - providing he is included in the tour party.
Higginbotham initially escaped punishment for his two-pronged attack on McCaw in the 26th minute of the trans-Tasman rivals 18-18 draw at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night but was cited shortly after the match and charged with two counts of striking under law 10.4(a).
SANZAR judicial officer Jannie Lubbe, who exonerated Wallabies playmaker Quade Cooper after he kneed McCaw in the head during the Tri-Nations decider in Brisbane last year, categorised Higginbotham's foul play as "low level".
A statement issued by the Australian Rugby Union after the hearing said hitting with the knee "was more of a bump than a hit".
The head butt, meanwhile, "was reckless and not executed with much force".
Lubbe noted McCaw was not injured and was able to play on.
McCaw was penalised for a ruck infringement but the match officials missed Higginbotham's retribution.
It was the first time Higginbotham, 26, had appeared before a judiciary and that previously clean disciplinary record was taken into account before he was banned from all forms of rugby from October 20 to November 17.
He may face further punishment through non-selection as Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has previously stated only players available for all four tests would be selected.
However, he is likely to make an exception for openside flanker David Pocock - the Wallabies first captain this year - if he recovers from a serious knee injury.
Higginbotham told the hearing he and McCaw shook hands after the match and claimed there were no hard feelings between the pair although irate All Blacks coach Steve Hansen described the Queenslander's actions as a "cheap shot" and urged match officials to pay closer attention to the treatment his captain receives.
Higginbotham is the second player to be suspended for targeting McCaw illegally this season.
South African prop Dean Greyling was banned for two weeks for elbowing McCaw in the jaw during the Rugby Championship clash between the All Blacks and Springboks in Dunedin last month.
The vagaries of the tournament draw meant he only missed one test.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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