Ban signals end for Clohessy

 

THE international career of Ireland tight head prop Peter Clohessy is almost certainly over.

At the very least he will be out of the game until next December after being suspended for 26 playing weeks for deliberately stamping on French second row forward Olivier Roumat during Saturday's International Championship match at Parc des Princes.

Thus Clohessy (29), is yet again centre stage in a major controversy. Over two years ago he was suspended for 10 weeks by the IRFU disciplinary committee on video evidence of an incident in the All Ireland League match between his club, Young Munster, and St Mary's College. On that occasion Clohessy was adamant he had not stamped on St Mary's forward Steve Jameson. This time the video evidence is damning, and leaves no room for doubt.

Clohessy said on Saturday night: " I did not deliberately stamp on Roumat. In fact I was not aware of any problem until a few hours after the match and the Ireland manager Pat Whelan told me there was a problem. I could not even remember the incident clearly."

Then, yesterday morning, after Clohessy had given evidence but before he heard the verdict on his action, he said: "I was held back by two French forwards and the video shows that. I hope my explanation will be accepted."

It was a futile hope. And whatever the player may feel about lack of intent, there is no room for doubt about the danger in the action and the intensity of the contact on Roumat's head. In those circumstances there was only one possible verdict: guilty of violating law 26 (3) (B), which is clear and definitive on wilful stamping on an opponent. Suspension was inevitable.

Although Roumat did leave the field, in fact he was withdrawn because of an eye injury he sustained in another incident. But that is not a mitigating factor.

Nor did it help Clohessy's cause, when it came to judgment, that he had been warned by the referee, after intervention by a touch judge, about an incident with French hooker Jean Michel Gonzalez. Gonzalez later left the field.

On Saturday night, in Paris, three officials from the IRFU met three from the French Federation, the referee Ed Morrison, and the match commissioner Alan Hosie of Scotland. Whelan and Clohessy were called into the meeting.

While the French coach, JeanClaude Skrela, had said shortly after the match that they would not be citing Clohessy for the stamp on Roumat, events took a different turn as the gravity of the incident was taken up by both the IRFU and French Federation. Both cited Clohessy on the video evidence.

The IRFU representatives at the meeting were the president, Syd Millar, and committee members Tom Kiernan and Billy Lavery. The decision on what action to take on the evidence presented was the responsibility of match commissioner Hosie.

His verdict was not known before the Ireland party flew from Paris to Dublin. The IRFU secretary, Philip Browne, telephoned Hosie from Dublin Airport and was informed of the suspension. Clohessy was told before the suspension was announced by Whelan. Clohessy left for his home in Limerick immediately after hearing the verdict.

Announcing the ruling, Whelan said: "Obviously we do not condone foul play and it was a serious offence. However, I want to view the video in detail and consider other factors, such as how this sentence compares to suspensions given for comparable offences, before I comment further. The sentence seems severe and it appears as if a previous suspension was taken into account." Whelan said he will make a detailed statement today.

Browne said the IRFU will also make a statement today. But he was not prepared to elaborate. "The fact that the IRFU cited the player indicates how we viewed the incident, but at this stage and until all the relevant matters are taken into account, I will not comment further. Whatever further action the IRFU will take will be a matter for the committee of the union."

The suspension on Clohessy is the most severe given to an Ireland international and could preface the end of his career. He will be out of the game for almost 12 months. That, allied to a recurring back problem - at one stage there was a doubt about his fitness for the match last Saturday - could prompt him to retire.

He is the second player suspended as result of foul play in this season's championship. The French Federation suspended Richard Dourthe for 30 days for kicking England's Ben Clarke in the match a month ago, a derisory sentence. Another French player, second row Olivier Merle, was suspended last year for head butting Ricky Evans of Wales. Again it was a derisory sentence.

Two years ago Clohessy was stamped and raked in the match in Paris and had to leave the field. He had stitches inserted in three different wounds in his head. The French Federation took no disciplinary action following those incidents.

The French are notorious for stamping and raking, especially in Paris, but that does not exonerate similar actions or dangerous play by anyone. It is the worst possible advertisement for the game, discourages parents and is a disincentive to youngsters.