Andy McGeady: Disciplinary measures must be applied in a consistent manner
Dylan Hartley is an easy target and will miss the World Cup but Yoann Huget has got off lightly
Northampton’s Dylan Hartley tussles with Saracens’ Jamie George and Jacques Burger during the Aviva Premiership semi final. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
It’s not so long ago that rugby discipline was a messy business. Tit for tat citings. Or none, depending on what nod and wink might have been exchanged by the blazers. With independent citing commissioners and more clearly defined disciplinary procedures the sport of rugby union has come a long way. But with different competitions having seemingly different standards of enforcement has it come far enough?
England’s New Zealand born hooker Dylan Hartley is an easy target. With a career total of 54 weeks of playing suspensions, including biting and gouging, the civilian equivalent of a report involving the Northampton front row and club captain might well contain the words “well known to the authorities”. Yet Hartley might, compared with players in other tournaments, have cause for complaint.
Hartley’s latest ban – four weeks for what was deemed to have been a head-butt in an Aviva Premiership semi-final loss to eventual champions Saracens – would have ruled him out of competitive action until England’s second game of the 2015 Rugby World Cup. As a result national coach Stuart Lancaster has taken out his morality broom and Hartley is now surplus to requirements.
That’s Lancaster’s call, and kudos to the RFU for having the gumption to set down such a punishment in a World Cup year. At a human level making such a decision can’t be easy, not when a place in one of the sport’s glory tournaments is at stake. Alan Quinlan was in a similar situation back in 2009 when a suspension caused him to miss that summer’s Lions tour. You don’t get those chances back.
One looks then to France and the curious case of Yoann Huget. Those who’ve seen the video footage of the French international’s left boot making violent downward contact with the face of Bordeaux’s South African lock Jandré Marais two weeks ago might have been somewhat surprised that Huget played in Toulouse’s 20-19 win over Oyonnax on Saturday. If deliberate he should have got a lengthy ban, something to rival or even surpass Hartley’s 26 weeks for eye gouging in 2007. If merely deemed to be “reckless”, something shorter. To not receive even a citing brings the Top 14’s disciplinary procedures into serious question.
World Rugby introduced the CCW for the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2014. Broadly similar to the Level One Citing, something in place in the RFU for a number of years, it gives rugby’s judiciary another tool to use when a player has been quite naughty. The player’s card can be marked, a finger sternly wagged, without an immediate suspension. While the penalty is equivalent to a post-match yellow card, the threshold for a CCW is higher; it requires an act to narrowly fail the red card test. A player picking up three yellow cards or CCWs in the same competition will be called to a hearing.
In the case of the RFU a CCW remains on a player’s record for five years, potentially impacting the length of a future suspension. While the CCW was not in place in the Top14 or Pro12 this season there were 11 CCWs issued between this season’s Champions and Challenge Cups (that’s compared to six full citings, one of which was dismissed). It will be in place at the World Cup.
Easy to sit at a desk in Dublin waxing lyrical about disciplinary issues abroad; possibly a look in the mirror is also required. Last Thursday’s match in Thomond Park had a pair of actions at a single ruck – a stamp by Ian Madigan and a knee to the back by Jack McGrath – that were deemed unworthy of post-match action. Regardless of whether either act merited sanction, the fact the citing commissioner for the match was Irish might not look good in a public relations sense.
World Rugby is in a difficult position. While they lay down the Laws and Regulations that govern the game, they have direct disciplinary jurisdiction over certain matches and competitions only. Their request for a report into last season’s appalling Florian Fritz concussion incident was very much an exception, perhaps more a testament to sport’s (rightful) sensitivity around head injuries than the commencement of a new role as the game’s policeman.
Whatever the tool used – card, CCW or citing – the sport needs consistency in how discipline is applied, especially in a World Cup year. World Rugby told the BBC it is “keeping an interested eye on the application of the disciplinary process”. The sport’s governing body has an Exceptional Circumstances clause in its regulations; in the case of the lack of a hearing for Huget, it will be interesting to see if they use it.