Hodgson backs banned team-mate Cueto

Charlie Hodgson today expressed England’s relief that Mark Cueto’s ban for eye-gouging has not ruled him out of the Rugby World Cup.

Cueto received a nine-week suspension after pleading guilty to a charge of making contact with the eye or eye area of Northampton lock Christian Day.

The Rugby Football Union’s disciplinary panel reduced the ban from 18 weeks due to a “compelling mitigation”, the details of which will be published tomorrow.

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Cueto started all nine of England’s Tests this season and was a pivotal figure in their RBS 6 Nations title-winning campaign.

Halifax-born Hodgson, Cueto’s Sale and England team-mate, said: “Any team with the quality and calibre of Cuets is better off.

“He is one of the senior players in the England team and he shows that with his performances. He leads by example.

“He has played very well for England and the fact he is available now for the warm-up Tests and for the tournament is only a good thing.”

Had the RFU panel not halved his suspension, Cueto would have been banned until August 8 and missed the first of England’s three warm-up internationals.

Cueto will miss the rest of Sale’s season but he will link up with England for their summer training camp on June 20 and he is available for the warm-up Tests against Wales, home and away, and Ireland.

England then kick off their World Cup campaign against Argentina in Dunedin on September 10.

Cueto suffered a dip in form after the 2007 World Cup, when he had a try disallowed in the final, but he has been England’s most consistent performer in the back division for over a year.

“I think he is back to his old self,” Hodgson added.

“He went through a period of injury that stifled him slightly. He lost his confidence and his speed and he found it hard to get that back.

“Playing for England with guys like Ben Foden and Chris Ashton, who are full of confidence and back themselves all the time, rubs off on him.

“He is back to his old self and it is great to see him playing well, taking the ball forward and beating people.”