Higginbotham = Etzebeth? Pah!

Thursday morning and time for a sneak preview of Tank’s Sport24 column on the joke that has become the disciplinary process in world rugby …

Tank Lanning

The citing and disciplinary hearing process in rugby has caused much angst in recent times, with people struggling to believe the authenticity and objectivity given the difference in punishments handed out for offences that look to be very similar, or similar punishments handed out for offences that looked very different.

For example, Wallaby loose forward Scott Higginbotham was this week banned for just two weeks after being found guilty of kneeing and head butting Richie McCaw on the weekend.

He received a two-week suspension on both charges but duty judicial officer Jannie Lubbe said neither incident was regarded as severe, with the knee impact being more of a bump than a hit and the head-butt “Executed without much force”. So both punishments are to run concurrently, meaning Higginbotham gets away with a two week ban

This while Eben Etzebeth was suspended for the same amount of time by Nigel Hampton for just a hint of a head butt on Nathan Sharpe last month. In fact, it looked like it was more of a mock head butt than anything else …

Dean Greyling also got two weeks for using his elbow while leaping over a ruck to get at McCaw in a “Clean out” that looked more like a predetermined hit on the All Black captain.

Three very different offences, three identical punishments. Throw in the single week that Morne Steyn got (meaning that he does not miss a single game) for his blatant stiff arm on Louis Ludik, and one can understand people’s frustration. In short, the process has very little credibility.

I have three big issues with the process … Firstly; it seems the outcome of the offence is influencing the punishment, meaning that if you throw a haymaker of a punch, and miss, every one giggles and the game carries on. However, throw a short jab in frustration that knocks someone out because you found the temple or nose, and it’s a six week suspension. That is desperately wrong – it has to be about intent, not about the result.

Secondly; disciplinary hearings are carried out by the specific tournament organizers and not a central body under the IRB. Greg Peters, CEO of SANZAR, made this abundantly clear on Twitter when questioned on the Higginbotham sanction by replying with: “Back the truck up mate, that was not a SANZAR match”. Quite disturbingly, in reply to my suggestion to Peters on Twitter that the time has come for all citings and disciplinary hearings to be handled by one body – Including Super Rugby and Heineken Cup, he replied “Very logical and maybe politics will one day allow this to happen”. Politics meddling in sport? Surely not?

And thirdly; punishment is handed out in weeks rather than games, so come the end of the season or a break in a tournament, players can get away with reduced suspensions given that they were not going to be playing in those weeks in any case. Punishments should game in games, and kept to games at the level in which the offence occurred. Head butt in a Test, and you miss 2 Tests, not 2 seven a side games set up in the off season!

International unions and tournament organisers not having a right to appeal decisions is another issue as it stands, but using the technology available these days that allows for instant transfer of large amounts of data, put all citings and hearings under the roof of a competent IRB body that looks at intent rather than the result, and hands out punishment in games rather than weeks, and you won’t need the right to appeal.

As it stands, all the current system does is undermine the process and make a mockery of the IRB’s want to make the game safer and cleaner

One Comment

  1. I agree entirely! Recently a couple of us discussed this matter in some detail, with a cooler box as guest of honour. Most importantly, match bans as supposed to week bans and a match ban should be linked to a level of rugby.

    The following scenarios were interesting:

    On the matches vs weeks ban, you can effectively get away with anything in a final. So go ahead and take a man out with the shoulder from the side of a ruck and disturbing a couple of ribs. The result, offending player, penalty against, 10min sin bin (maybe). He might get sighted and get a 2week ban. The poor receiving player, probably targeted, gets broken ribs and 6-8weeks out. mmm, not alot of sense in that.

    On the match ban linked to level of tournament the following scenario. Vodacom Cup runs at about the same time as Super Rugby. Team A from Super Rugby gets a player suspended for 1 match, but have 1 bey in between. So just pick the player for the Vodacom Cup team, but oops, he is suspended, though luck, and viola, no suspension.

    The whole thing is a farce and actually makes a mockery of citing in my opinion. Also, they need to consider repeat offenders and heftier sanctions should be laid against these guys.

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