The news released last night of the outcome of the weekends disciplinary citations has seen World Rugby enter very dangerous territory with regards to it’s credibility as a governing body for the sport.
The decision to ban Johnny Gray and Ross Ford for three weeks each for a dangerous tackle is harsh from most angles, especially on Ford. Put into the light of the one week bans received by both Marcelo Bosch (dangerous tip tackle) and Sean O’Brien (striking) and the decision highlights glaring issues with the Worlds Rugby judiciary’s ability to apply an even-handed approach.
It is clear in the clips circulating that Johnny Gray had a case to answer. His attempt at a ruck clearout was clumsy, he lifts the Samoan’s leg at which point the Samoan can’t control or arrest his movement. The fact that the Samoan landed on the back of his neck, even with no great force or intent, always saw Gray in trouble even if JP Pietersen got off with something similar against Swinson last week. Pietersen tried to support Swinson once he realised what was going on, Gray didn’t. Three weeks may be harsh but it is equally difficult to argue that Gray wasn’t in the wrong on some level.
Ford has been dealt with terribly, his crime is being in the wrong place and time at a clear out. Unless there was a pre-planned conspiracy between Gray and Ford then it is hard to understand the case against Ford. The application of a three week ban equal in length to Gray is, in short, nonsense. The decision raises justifiable questions over the competence and game knowledge of those making disciplinary judgements, in this case Judicial Officer Christopher Quinlan QC. The SRU should, indeed must, appeal the ban for Ross Ford even if any likely outcome short of acquittal will see him miss the Australia game.
Whilst the decisions made on Scotland players is disappointing and, in the case of Ford, baffling, it is actually the decision to hand out a 1 week ban to Sean O’Brien which sees World Rugby lurch away from the spirit of the game.
Sean O’Brien is a fantastic rugby player, his performance after the second minute in Cardiff this last weekend was Herculean and he drove his team onto, what could be ultimately, a significant victory.
Rugby is a tough sport, physical and dangerous. Those who participate play knowing the risk, indeed those risks are a big reason why many of us play. It is also a sport where participants are expected to play to high ideals, respect for opposition and officials alike.
O’Brien’s cowardly cheap shot on Pascal Pape has no place in the game. To strike a player off the ball and whilst looking in another direction is not rugby, it’s a straight up act of bone-headed thuggery. It is also, apparently, worth no more than a slap on the wrist and a minimal ban.
In giving a one week ban for Sean O’Brien, World Rugby is at risk of bringing the game into disrepute. Firstly, as a message on what is tolerated on the pitch this sends a horrific message to young players on what is, and is not, acceptable. Secondly it is a decision which leaves World Rugby wide open to accusations to cronyism and preserving the chances of the top contenders as much as possible while decimating those of the lesser nations who can be made an example of.
The inconsistencies in disciplinary decisions are starting to mount in this tournament. Alesana Tuilagi 5 week ban was a nonsence, especially if Tom Wood was given just a warning for knocking out Liam Williams. Bosch, Nadolo and Waqaniburotu were all found guilty of a tip tackle, all given a one week ban – Ford and Gray found guilty of a tip tackle, given a three week ban.
To paraphrase Matthew McConaughey’s closing statement in a Time to Kill, they need to picture the tackle in their mind’s eye, then imagine it being made by Richie McCaw and Dane Coles (or Kevin Mealamu, perhaps?). Is it still a three week ban?
If it isn’t, why not?
World Rugby has a duty of care to the game globally. This is not just a case of putting on a great World Cup and securing ever increasing sponsorship and attendances and big buckets of cash. It is more fundamental. It has a duty to foster the ethos of the game as a game of toughness, fairness and respect. The tournament so far has set a wonderful example of the way in which rugby is a broad church, where fans mix and socialise and teams without a big travelling support are taken to heart. On the pitch we’ve also seen some fantastic games, but the double standards in the disciplinary process are starting to rankle.
The decisions made yesterday are taking the game of rugby in a direction which we should all feel uncomfortable with.