New Zealand hooker Andrew Hore has been banned for five weeks - but just two competitive matches - for striking Wales lock Bradley Davies.
Hore's suspension rules him out of Saturday's Test against England and it includes the first game of the Highlanders' 2013 Super Rugby season, against the Chiefs on February 22.
But judicial officer Professor Lorne Crerar has come under fire for including three pre-season matches in the ban after being convinced they "all had significant and meaningful consequences" for Hore. Davies was knocked unconscious after he was hit from behind by Hore's swinging arm, just 30 seconds into the All Blacks' 33-10 win at the Millennium Stadium.
Professor Crerar deemed the incident to be "inherantly dangerous" and a top-end offence but he accepted Hore had not intended to strike Davies in the head. Hore was initially hit with an eight-week ban but that was reduced to five when Professor Crerar took into account a number of mitigating factors, including his daily contact with Davies.
But Professor Crerar has come under fire for counting the Highlanders' three pre-season fixtures as part of the final suspension.The disciplinary statement said: "The judicial officer heard submissions in detail as to when the suspension should end given that the player was entering the close season.
"The judicial officer received unreserved assurances from Ian Foster, assistant coach, New Zealand, the player and his legal representative that the pre-season matches to be played by the Highlanders during the weekends of 1st, 8th and 15th February all had significant and meaningful consequences for the player. The player is accordingly suspended up to and including Sunday 24 February 2013 and has the right of appeal."
Hore's hit, which was not seen by referee Craig Joubert or his assistants, left Davies with concussion that has ruled him and out of Wales' final autumn Test against Australia.
Professor Crerar ruled the swinging-arm offence was unprovoked and "inherently dangerous being a deliberate swinging of the arm delivered with significant force, causing serious injury to the victim player, Bradley Davies, who was unsighted".
But Hore was cleared of deliberately targeting Davies' head and the judgement found there were no aggravating factors. The statement read: "In categorising the seriousness of the offence the judicial officer held that it was worthy of a top end entry point under the IRB's sanctions table, and that the entry point should be eight weeks.
"The judicial officer held that there were no aggravating factors. The judicial officer acknowledged the mitigating factors of acceptance of guilt by the player, his genuine remorse, as evidenced by his daily contact with the injured player, his exemplary disciplinary record, and his conduct throughout the hearing and imposed a suspension of five weeks."