I am baffled.
I’ve been saying for a long time now that rugby’s disciplinary process needs a radical overhaul, and nothing proves that point as starkly as the first two rounds of the Guinness Pro14, where inconsistencies and frankly bizarre decision making have caused confusion and anger.
We start at round one, and Cardiff Blues are away at Zebre. Josh Turnbull is sent off early in the second half for a high tackle on Maxime Mbanda. I’ve got no issue with the card, or the three week ban he received. All contact to the head and neck is a minimum mid-range offence with a six week ban, and Turnbull was rightly given the full 50% mitigation for the first red card of his career.
From there it all goes off course.
Peter O’Mahony is sent off for two yellow cards on the same weekend, but receives no ban at all. Both offences were pre-meditated shoulder charges in the sense that he had time to think about what he was going to do before he did it, compared to Turnbull’s offence which was an accidental offence due to poor technique.
Stating that two yellow cards ‘never normally receives a further ban’ just sums up the lack of ability the disciplinary process has to hand out punishments based on the actual offences. Particularly the second shoulder charge, dropped on a defenceless player some times after a try had been scored, was a borderline red card in itself, but the only punishment received is 20 minutes off the field.
Then we move on to round two, and Ulster’s Iain Henderson is sent off against Ospreys for a shoulder charge on Dan Evans. Once again it’s a pre-meditated offence in the sense that a breakdown contest is over, Evans is standing over his team-mate securing the ball and Henderson chooses, with little open of gaining anything, to plant his shoulder on the chin.
Outcome? Same three week ban, down from six, that Turnbull received, despite the pre-meditated nature of the incident and the fact that it was Henderson’s second red card of his career. That other offence being a shoulder charge at the breakdown against Munster in May 2015.
Finally, Sam Lousi was sent off in the Scarlets defeat away to Glasgow on Sunday, with his high tackle offence being one of technique rather than pre-meditated, just as Turnbull’s was. However, it’s the second time this calendar year he has been sent off after throwing a punch against Munster back in February.
All that does though is earn you an extra week ban. Four weeks off, with the previously clean Turnbull having three, is even more bizarre when you consider that Lousi didn’t even serve a ban for the punch. He was given five weeks off back in February, but then lockdown hit and the ban mysteriously disappeared. By rights he should have missed both August games and the first three rounds of this season.
Just to add insult to injury, Lousi will only actually miss the same amount of Pro14 games that Turnbull will, as somehow the Dragons XV v Scarlets A training game being held at Rodney Parade today counts towards the ban. A game where the Scarlets have named 10 forwards on the bench, and have six props and three hookers involved. It’s not a serious game.
What happens when the Celtic Cup comes back? A player can get a three week ban in the Pro14 but the first team and A team are both playing on the following weekend so that counts as two of the weeks?
It was also the case for George North when the Ospreys played Scarlets in Llanelli the week before the season started. It’s a bad look for the league and makes a mockery of the disciplinary process. May as well setup a Wednesday night touch rugby league to get further around bans.
To add confusion to all of the above then, the Pro14 insist on referring to bans in terms of weeks, when they are actually now handed out in terms of games.
Josh Turnbull was sent off on the night of Friday 2nd October, so three weeks from then should see him free to play from Monday 26th October, but because there are no games this weekend, and Cardiff Blues haven’t arranged any joking training games, he actually isn’t free to play until Tuesday 3rd November. Why not just refer to them as games in press releases?
All-in-all, it takes the piss really.