Doctors differ, patients die, an old adage perhaps. A more relevant new one is that when rugby’s judiciary differ with the referee, players survive.
So, the result of the last few days’ work is that Cian Healy is free to play against Racing in the Heineken Champions Cup this weekend and Toulouse’s Antoine Dupont can line out against Munster. If either of these two key players plays a pivotal role, then their opponents will have every reason to shake their heads in bewilderment.
Let’s look at the Healy incident, and the reasons for the crucial difference of opinion with referee Christophe Ridley. The first thing to note is that the judicial panel agreed that there was foul play, but of the yellow variety, not red. The reasoning then states that there was sufficient evidence to overrule the referee. Here they start to play with fire - unless there is compelling (very, very different from ‘sufficient’) evidence then surely the original decision should stand. In other words, unless the referee clearly screws up, in which case it should be politely said, then the on-pitch decision needs to be confirmed.
More playing with fire is contained in some of the stated reasons: Healy was passive, not moving forward, that Ulster’s Tom Stewart had dipped and changed direction. Hells bells, where are we going with all of this? Certainly not away from dangerous challenges, with little incentive for players to change behaviour if these milk-toast judicial outcomes are available to them.
The fact that Healy was not moving forward is very dangerous ground for mitigation - try parking your car in the middle of the road. He was upright, made no attempt to bend into the tackle, and severe direct head contact occurred. If there was any change of direction, or dip, by Stewart, these were infinitesimal. And that Healy appeared to have a high degree of control borders on the risible. All of that should have seen the end of things. But no, the panel could only see yellow.
Ridley had analysed the situation perfectly well in accordance with World Rugby protocols and in the view of many, myself included, was absolutely correct to produce a red card. But where to now for Ridley and his fellow officials? Does this create a precedent and will this ruling be used as a future yardstick? Please, gentlemen, stick to your guns, do not be influenced by incomprehensible judicial judgements which are in conflict with your own interpretation.
Meanwhile, Antoine Dupont’s red card (France v South Africa) was appealed. Don’t forget that he tipped over Cheslin Kolbe who was high in the air at the time. Sure, Dupont may well have been looking at the ball, but he never had a snowball’s chance in hell of contesting it. Kolbe landed head first and was fortunate to avoid serious injury.
Nonetheless, another red card was rendered meaningless with Dupont’s net suspension conveniently reduced from four to two weeks. Meanwhile, we, the confused and angry, are left wondering what will make those in high places wake up.
Hopefully, they do not require an injury of catastrophic proportions before the alarm bell rings loud. Because, by then, it will be too late.