EXETER Chiefs scrum-half Niall Armstrong has been banned for three matches after being sent off against Northampton Saints at Franklin's Gardens on Sunday.

The suspension will be reduced to two games if he makes an application to World Rugby to undertake the Coaching Intervention Programme (CIP).  

Armstrong was red carded in the 68th minute of Exeter's 34-19 defeat at Northampton after his outstretched leg hit Saints' fly-half Fin Smith in the face as he went to catch a high kick.

Referee Craig Maxwell-Keys deemed it to be dangerous play.

Armstrong's case was heard on papers yesterday by an independent disciplinary panel chaired by Matthew Weaver KC sitting with Daniel Gore and Christian Scotland-Williamson.

Armstrong was leaning back to catch the ball, which Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter says forced him to put a leg out for balance. 

"It's not a deliberate action and it's not an unnatural action," Baxter said. "But you literally have to sit with referees and show them 20 or 30 for them to understand, as however you look at it, it doesn't look right.

"But when you see the guys catching on a regular basis as soon as you make any movement to lean your upper body back a leg will naturally come out to balance you, that's the only balance you can make with the arms to your chest.

"I looked at a load of kicks in a load of games and they all looked very similar, it's just positioning of the opposition body that changes the scenario."

Armstrong admitted the charge and will miss Sunday's home game with Gloucester, the trip to Newcastle Falcons the following Sunday, and the match at Bath on December 2 (subject to completion of CIP).