Are World Rugby using Magic 8 Balls to decide on ban lengths? In this wonderful World Cup, all we're asking for is a bit of consistency...
“The ball’s out when a bird can sh*t on it”. “The ball’s not out until the scrum-half lifts it off the ground”. “The ball is out as soon as the nine touches it”. Anyone who has even played amateur level rugby is aware of the different interpretations from different referees, and the great news is it’s now spread to citing officers. Not content with taking an all-but-faceless back seat, the citing officers want to add a bit of an ex-citing edge to the game by being consistent in their inconsistency.
Scotland play Australia this weekend without two of their best players, after an Australian citing officer decided they had a case to answer for this tackle.
No real issue on the Gray side, as he lifts the man and flips him over. Ross Ford, though, surely isn’t doing much wrong. Just ask any New Zealand fan circa 2005 (that’s right, it still hurts!). On a serious note, though, what is the massive difference between that clearout and this one carried out by South Africa’s Francois Louw against Samoa? The decision here? No citing. No card. Nada. I’m not saying they are on the same level, but surely they aren’t miles apart.
Then there’s the case of Sean O’Brien. And bear in mind, for the next few seconds at least, that I am Irish, so I could get disowned for this. According to Law 10.4 (f) in the rugby laws, the ban for striking an opponent is two weeks. So why did Sean O’Brien get off with one? Ah, of course, good behaviour. Are there players somewhere who stroll into their hearing, stick two fingers up at the men in suits and light a cigarette? It’s either a two-week minimum or it isn’t.
It doesn’t help that the Scottish duo had their ban extended because those higher-ups in rugby wanted to set a good example to younger players. Don’t worry, kids, punching is fine.
And a knee to the stomach? Don’t worry about that. Nobody cares. Right, Mr Pocock?
Scotland had another incident against Samoa where Ryan Wilson was given a yellow card for firing a kick at a Samoan face – which he just missed thankfully. Yes, he was being held back (as was Sean O’Brien), but that’s an argument for another day. If we’re being consistent here, isn’t Wilson at least worthy of a hearing? Is a kick to the face less damaging than a kidney punch? Is it just roll the dice on any given day and see what length ban we fancy?
The problem is the number of different opinions involved. RW’s Sarah Mockford mentioned it in her pool stage summary here, and she has an argument that I agree with. How can citings be “fair” if there are a host of different men overseeing them, each with their own view on what happened, and then a host of different hearings taking place, with each separate group deciding on mitigating
circumstances, seriousness of incident and – of course – good behaviour.
Michael Hooper got a one week ban for a ‘robust’ lead with the shoulder clearout, then Peter O’Mahony got a yellow card and nothing else for doing the same thing against Italy. And never forget Alessana Tuilagi got banned for running with his knees lifted.
Me? I’d have the referee take a look at any incidents that the TMO deems necessary, and then the man in the middle decides whether they should be seen by “the head of citing” – who then has the final say on the ban. Give the referee most of the power – as he is the man who was there in the heat of the moment, and knows what the game was like – and then ONE consistent voice to decide on the length of ban.
Whatever the answer, something has to change. Here’s the Marcelo Bosch tackle that got him a one week ban, by the way. Just don’t show Sam Warburton.