This week has seen yet more incidents brought up by citing officers. Why don’t they just have a quick glance at the tape and let players get on with it?
It was another long night for the disciplinary process on Tuesday when the ‘Gypsygate’ furore over Joe Marler mercifully came to an end in London and George Kruis and David Wilson, in a separate hearing in Bristol, were told to carry on playing.
Marler’s hearing took the best part of seven hours and Kruis and Wilson’s about four hours between them. The Marler one has been discussed ad nauseum since England’s Six Nations win over Wales and most are glad to see the back of it after some ham-fisted handling by the authorities. But you wonder whether the Kruis and Wilson ones should have even seen the light of day.
Hands up anyone who spotted Kruis’ alleged bite on live TV or at the Recreation Ground during the game against Bath last Friday night? Wilson might have had a case to answer on first glance but there was another Sarries player who was being talked about with potential to go into the dock in the aftermath of the game.
Food for thought and I bet Chris Ashton has thought about it.
On 13 January, Eddie Jones named his first England squad and Saracens wing Ashton was in it after missing the World Cup and having endured a cap-less spell stretching back to June 2014 in New Zealand.
Three days later, Sarries played Ulster in a European pool game at Allianz Park and won 33-17 but it was the last match Ashton would play for ten weeks. He was banned for, in the words of that unwieldly phrase, ‘making contact with the eye area’ of Ulster’s Luke Marshall.
And that was it. Six Nations over before it had started and two-and-a-half months of acting as opposition during Saracens training was staring him in the face.
But after the Ulster match there had not been a peep about a potential gouging incident. No-one there in person noticed it and the Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss did not mention it in his post-match press conference. It was only a couple of days later when the disciplinary email came through that anyone even talked about it.
Coaches normally do. I was once at a game when a coach fingered the wrong player for a gouging incident leading to huge back page headlines about someone who was not involved, another bloke got charged and the press did a huge back-track come Monday’s papers.
Sometimes the authorities scrutinise these things too closely. No-one got injured – no-one complained and all of a sudden someone is hauled up in front of the beak and loses the chance to get back into his national side.
Dai Young, in charge at Wasps, played in both the amateur and professional eras as a prop who went on three British & Irish Lions tours. The Welshman, after admitting he was glad the cameras were not about when he was starting out in the 1980s, said: “Everybody wants a clean game. Everybody wants to play tough and play hard but there is always a line. All the players would welcome that but no-one wants anything that could ultimately affect their livelihoods.”
It affected Ashton’s livelihood alright. He saw five potential Six Nations match fees and a Grand Slam bonus go up in smoke.
Young’s captain at Wasps, James Haskell, added: “As a player all you want is consistency and to know what the lie of the land is and what is black and what is white. Context is never taken into account. You just want to be able to do your job and understand what the rules are.”
And Alex Sanderson, one of Kruis’ bosses at Saracens, went further when he said: “They’ve built up the citing officers to look after players, which is a good thing. But the power they have, the way they have to wield it and hold people accountable sometimes make it a public lynching.
“I think it has gone too far. That’s my own personal opinion. It’s over-stepped for the likes of Ashton. He didn’t go for Marshall’s eyes. His hand was around there and that has never been any rugby player’s idea of illegality.”
No one wants a return to the bad, old days and the misty-eyed talk of dark arts. No-one wants rugby’s officials to spend hours poring over tapes trying to look for trouble and potentially tarring players with unwanted labels. Give it the once over and , if nothing immediately obvious jumps out, get on with the game.