}

10 Jan 2013

Plea for 2013 - Review the IRB Judiciary Process!

As the southern hemisphere teams returned home from their northern tours back at the tail end of last year, the IRB judiciary system faced increasing criticism from players and management alike. During the IRB's annual conference in Dublin in early December, the International Rugby International Players Association criticised what it described as inconsistencies in the judicial system and called for change.

Recent incidents involving New Zealand, in particular, have highlighted problems in the system. In September 2012, Springboks prop Dean Greyling received a two-week suspension after diving across a maul to deliberately smash his elbow into the face of All Blacks captain Richie McCaw. This incredibly lenient penalty sharply contrasts with other decisions, like the four week penalty given to All Black hooker Kevin Mealamu for head-butting England skipper Lewis Moody in 2010.

In October 2012, McCaw was on the receiving end again, when he was unnecessarily kneed in the head by Australian flanker Scott Higginbotham – who then proceeded to head-butt McCaw in the ensuing scrap. Higginbotham received a two-match suspension for his actions, the light punishment probably due to the lack of force used in the incident.


More recently, the All Blacks themselves were then in trouble on their northern hemisphere tour with flanker Adam Thomson being cited for stomping on the head of his opposite number Alasdair Strokosh. He received a one-week suspension as punishment and many pundits considered this to again be too lenient. The IRB agreed and, in an unusual move, reviewed the case and doubled the length of the suspension. It stated that the original punishment had been unduly lenient and not consistent with punishments previously handed down for similar offences.


In the following match All Blacks hooker Andrew Hore became the latest player surrounded in controversy, after a blindside strike on Welsh lock Bradley Davies. In what was widely condemned as deliberate, cowardly and dangerous act, Hore received an eight-match ban – later reduced to five games because of his good previous record and his unintended contact with the victim’s head. Due to this decision, Hore will only miss one game of any importance during his ban. One of the games he was unlikely to have played in anyway and the other three are pre-season (practice) matches with little real significance.

The IRPA Executive Director New Zealander Rob Nichol has reacted to the controversy, stating that the judicial system has let the game down. New initiatives have been proposed that will give the Television Match Officials a role in citing, with recently retired players also being included on judicial panels. They also propose that suspensions should relate to a number of relevant matches, rather than a given number of weeks. This will mean that the magnitude of punishments will no longer depend on the time of year the penalty is given and the amount of fixtures in its duration.

Despite the proposed changes, some still argue that the penalties aren’t strict enough and a number of additional suggestions have been made. The first is to categorise and grade offences (like in Rugby League) to ensure greater consistency. Additionally some pundits would like to implement a system of fines in a similar fashion to football, cricket and tennis. The argument is that Rugby is a professional game and that the fines already imposed for breach of contract should be applied to foul play.

Other ideas pertain to the citing system itself. For example, some would like on field match officials to be allowed to place a player “on report”, as in Rugby League so that an incident can be reviewed later. This would also apply to TMOs, who would be allowed to do the same for actions the referee or his assistants might have missed. However, considering the citing commission already look for incidents missed in the match itself this is more of a technicality. Furthermore there have been discussions on the question of time and what sort of time frame citings should be made under.

 No one will forget the 2005 Lions tour to New Zealand when All Blacks captain Tana Umaga and hooker Kevin Mealamu dumped Brian O’Driscoll on his head, forcing him out of the tour with injury. It was only later that amateur footage showed the callousness of the act, by which time it was too late to take action. It did, however, prompt the IRB to outlaw spear tackles and prompted kit makers such as Canterbury to produce a wider range of protective gear.

With a proper citing system in place and offences as well as their respective punishments clearly laid out, all that remains is to decide on who should hear cases. For practical reasons, in domestic rugby the home union should probably be responsible for appointing a judiciary panel, while panels for international tournaments and matches should be appointed by agreement among the participants. But, the IRB needs to be in control at all times to ensure consistency and to avoid accusations of manipulation. For this reason, decisions should be submitted for review to a higher body.

Imagine a star international facing a lengthy suspension following an incident in a club game – will his home union suspend him and so deny the national side his services? Or, will an overseas player receive a longer suspension than he should to prevent him playing for his country? These are the type of issues that must be considered by the IRB to ensure consistency in decisions.
The rules currently in place are clearly not working as they should. Not everyone will be satisfied all the time, but if the judicial system can be made open and consistent there will be fewer complaints and everyone will know exactly where they stand.

Written by Adam Dodge

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