Sunday, 30 June 2013

Horwill and Cockerill's day of destiny

Why is Monday the first of July so important in the rugby world judicial system? Answer we could be looking at two very important decisions to me made, both with potential to show big statements and both will be picked to pieces by many a journalist and supporters with their own verdicts.

The two cases in hand is the James Horwill retrial over the stamp on Alun Wyn Jones and Leicester Tigers coach Richard Cockerill's hearing as he is alleged to have used obscene, inappropriate and/or unprofessional language and behaviour towards fourth official Stuart Terheege.

Much has been debated, dissected and chewed over in regards to James Horwill. There was a huge disbelief that Horwill escaped any sanctions, some believed it was deserved and some felt it would harsh if he was punished. Regardless of your views on the incident it went unpunished, although it did cause a huge furore in the rugbying world. With such a high profile series and Australian captain being seemed to 'get off likely' by an Australian panel the IRB decided to review the process. The IRB's decision was met with a sense of trepidation as to some it showed little faith in their own disciplinary process, but their decision to hold it after the second test raised even more questions. One question in particular is
"if they are that concerned with the result of the first hearing why allow him to play in the second?"
By allowing Horwill to play in the second test was going to be a controversial issue, being the captain the on field decisions will be made by him and if Australia win his presence could of aided that victory. This is exactly what happened, Horwill opting to take a scrum rather than a kick at goal resulting in several phases of pressure from Australia and leading to Adam Ashley Cooper's try. The try that gave them the lead and ultimately victory. 
If the IRB decide to administer a ban to Horwill it will be seen to make even more of a mockery of their systems and the whole farcical situation will become much more than a player being seen to stamp on another players head, but more to the point what could the IRB done to avoid this and will they put a full review on their whole judicial process? 
Regardless of the outcome now it's more how can the IRB save face and try to make good some poor handling of the issue, for me it will take a miracle as there is no way of leaving this red faced.

Love him or hate him the controversial figure of Richard Cockerill will also be up in front of a judicial panel for an alleged outburst at a fourth official at the Aviva premiership final back in May. His outburst came after a late tackle by Courtney Lawes flattening  Toby Flood was only deemed as a penalty, this riled Cockerill greatly and went to the fourth official to vent his anger.
The same fixture saw Dylan Hartley swear at referee Wayne Barnes earning himself a red card and a 11 week ban that excluded him from the Lions tour.                                                               

We are all aware of Cockerill's out spoken manner and at times pushes the boundaries to extremes.

Cockerill's response at the end of the match: "I am allowed to talk to officials about what is happening on the field. I will talk to whoever I want. I said to the fourth official that the Lawes tackle should have been referred to the TMO, as has been the case all season. It was foul play with the sanction of a yellow card or potentially more."

Cockerill had a warning from the RFU earlier in the season after criticising the way referee Andrew Small was dealing with the scrum during their victory over Gloucester at Welford Road.

Another indiscretion came in 2009, where he was delivered a four-week touchline ban, meaning he could have no contact with his team on match days, for verbally abusing referee Tim Wigglesworth during an LV Cup match with Newport Gwent Dragons.

With such a history of disrespect for match officials will the RFU administer a fitting punishment? A player is heavily sanctioned for such behaviour so should a director of rugby be treated in the same manner.........answer Surely should be yes. What message would it send out across rugby if you have one rule for one and yet different for others, it comes back to delivering consistency in rugby.

Although things don't seem to be quite so cut and dry, the delay in announcing the there had been a citing goes against the RFU's rules. According to the RFU’s own regulations, dated August 2012 'any citing should be with the RFU head of discipline within 24 hours of the conclusion of the match'. A ruling designed deliberately to stop the RFU reacting to any media speculation, yet on its occasion it seems to have been over ruled.

Cockerill’s charge was announced on Monday the 3rd of June, a time scale of 9 DAYS after the event. So with the RFU Head of Discipline supposed receive this from the citing officer before 5pm on Sunday May 26 why announcement or any knowledge of the citing until Monday 3 rd of June? 

Which ever way these two hearings go there is a huge potential for controversy and endless discussions of if each, lets just hope the IRB and RFU handle both with a true level of caution and suitable sanctions are taken.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Continuity in citings?

Rugby is a sport which prides itself on respect and fair play, a sport that promotes equality. Be you tall, short, skinny or mildly rotund the game has a role for you. A physical game played by what many refer to as "real men"!
Physicality that sometimes boils over into foul play, now with so much media coverage and the TMO system more infringements are being picked up on leading to more punishments and bans being distributed. For some they believe it's bringing a sterilisation to the game and potentially losing the edge that make the game, playing on the cusp brings more entertainment. For which I disagree, I believe that player safety is imperative and that it's still physical especially now it's a fully established professional sport.

We are now fully accepting of TMO and leading to a citings committee being pulled into action, but are we accepting if their decisions?

So many citings have been called into question, are they suitable and appropriate to fit the crime. My thoughts are these panels just don't appear to be hitting the fact missing it like a Kurtley Beale kick (couldn't resist).

For anyone who has viewed the footage of James Horwill's stamp on Alun-Wyn Jones' head it seemed conclusive evidence that there was a sign of intent. So as rugby fans and the rugbying media discussed what punishment Horwill would receive nobody expected the actual outcome from the hearing. The news was announced that a not guilty decision had been made. The panel headed by Nigel Hampton QC came to the decision which took nearly four hours to make released this statement-

"After hearing all the evidence I could not find that, when James Horwill's right foot came into glancing contact with Alun-Wyn Jones' face, that he was acting recklessly,"

"I found that I could not reject as being implausible or improbable Horwill's explanation that, as he was driving forward with his right leg raised, he was spun off balance through the impact of Lions players entering the ruck from the opposite side,"

"In an endeavour to regain his balance, Horwill brought his right leg to the ground unknowing that Alun-Wyn Jones' head was in that area, due to having his sight impeded by the presence of Michael Hooper and Tom Croft who were beneath him and over the top of Alun-Wyn Jones.

"Due to these reasons, I cannot uphold the citing."

A verdict that I for one cannot understand, how after four hours this was the conclusion. So how can the Australian captain escape what seemed to be such damming evidence of a stamp that left the Welshman requiring stitches? But then we beg the question on how can some of the incidents we see go to these citing committees not quite go the way many believe they should go. 

A fixture of the magnitude that the first test between Australia and the Lions is should a citings be dealt with in a different manner? The sport is a global game and these games are some of the biggest in the game, would handing it to a independent IRB panel with a representatives from many nations dispel views of biased outcomes?

Consistency seems to be a a major issue within the citing committees, there have been many results that have raised many an eyebrow. We've seen let offs and huge reductions in lengths of bans. 
Rugby shows the world that it will not take any infringements likely, they do not dwell on things and deal with the matter within days, whereas football will take months. But is this the correct way, is rushing leading to poor decisions.

Following the first test the Lions had their last mid week fixture against the Melbourne Rebels and once again another citing, this time for Lachlan Mitchell. Mitchell was cited for a dangerous tackle on Simon Zebo and subsequently was summonsed before the same panel as Horwill. Many deemed the tackle an innocuous one and with no intent or malice but Nigel Hampton QC and the panel saw things differently. Mitchell was handed a one match ban, the normal suspension for this offence is A four match ban but reductions have been made.

“I found that the incident was clearly at the lowest level for this offence,” said judicial officer Nigel Hampton QC, in a statement released by the Australian Rugby Union.
“The penalty associated for the lower level breach of Law 10.4 (j) is a suspension of four matches.
“Because of the circumstances and Lachlan Mitchell’s good on-field record, I have determined that the maximum reduction to the sentence of 50% should be applied.
“Further to this, I found that an additional discount to the suspension should be made as I believe a two-match penalty would be disproportionate to the level and type of offence that has occurred.
“As such, I have delivered a sanction of a one-match suspension, which will be fulfilled following the Rebels’ next Super Rugby fixture on July 12.” .

So from four match to a one week ban for a tackle many didn't even deem worth a ban?

One of the most contentious errors in judgements came from the 2005 Lions tour to New Zealand. The world saw one of the most cynical tackles to take a player out of the game and the tour. With seconds on the clock Umaga and Mealamu took it upon their selves to simultaneously spear tackle on the then Lions captain Brian O'Driscoll, leaving him with a dislocated shoulder and his tour ended. What followed was much worse, for such a heinous crime neither received any sanctions and went unpunished.

On most counts the citings are caught early and dealt with although it's the reductions that mildly baffle me, it's also now becoming a running joke amongst fans. One of the favourite phrases that will be used is "exemplary behavior" there is also further reduction for a guilty plea. The jokes now come to the extent of a player attending a hearing may take a nice cake or further reductions for having a 'nice' tie on! With such mockery and a full lack of respect being shown is it now not time the IRB gave a full reassessment of the citings process?

A prime example of ludicrous reductions comes in the form of Andrew Hore, originally was hit with the top end punishment for the cowardly crime of striking Bradley Davis from behind, who was totally unaware of what was going on. The ban was then handed out with a three week deduction due to his- acceptance of guilt, genuine remorse, exemplary discipline record and his conduct during the hearing. Hore also had a daily contact with Davis while he was in hospital.

The judicial official said "The act of foul play was inherently dangerous, being a deliberately swinging of the delivered with significant force, causing serious injury to victim who was unsighted." "the player had not intended to make contact with the players head". But when you weigh up the fact that there is six inches difference in height between the two players so begs the question "why was his hand near his head if there was no intention to strike him?"

A five match ban reduced from eight is one thing, then take into account three of those fixtures were pre-season games. Weighing up that it looks to of been a very lenient punishment. Ian Foster (New Zealand assistant coach), Hore and his legal representative stated the pre-season significances and meaningful consequences for the player in accordance with IRB regulation 17.

sadly this wasn't a first for Hore who has previous form for foul play, so should a sterner more apt punishment been implemented?

When Dylan Hartley opted to use foul language directed to the match official he broke the fundamental rule of respecting the referee. By doing so he had to face to consequences and feel the wrath of the citing committee and face the ultimate price. A punishment to any British or Irish player that would be considered as the ultimate punishment, a ban that sees him miss the length of the Lions tour. Hartley obviously isn't amiss to crossing the line and has plenty of previous form in indiscipline. If you weigh up his punishment in regards to others it seems a little unbalanced, an 11 week ban for verbal abuse as opposed to no punishment for stamping on somebody's head? Respect is beyond important in rugby but do we really believe verbal is worse than physical abuse? Yes rugby is a contact sport and the we all accept the physical side, for many that's the draw, but deliberate has no place and should be punishable in relevance to verbal infringements.

Such poor decisions is almost making a mockery if the sport we know and love, it truly isn't giving a good representation and positive message to the world.