Let me just say right off the bat that I am currently working with the Wesley Rugby Committee as a coaching consultant so some would say there is a conflict of interest in any article written about Wesley College and their rugby program.
Ahead of any feelings I have for the double blues is my sense of what is right and what is wrong. By writing this article I am in no way condoning what happened at the end of the Wesley College versus Trinity College but my hope is that we examine the process where a fair hearing is given to the rambunctious young Wesley player.The question of right and wrong is the virtue that grandfathers teach their grandchildren, that young people are learning about on a daily basis and the moral principle determining just conduct. Of course I am talking about justice and I am forced to ask the question, “Is the one year ban given to the Wesley player for the shoulder charge a deserved punishment?” The answer to such a question has many aspects that need examining.
First we must look at how late the shoulder charge was? There is video evidence that the player in question was committed to his shoulder charge before the ball was placed for the try. So even the question of how late the shoulder charge was comes into question.
The wait is almost over but as Sir Winston Churchill once said, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end…
Secondly we need to look at what part of the body was targeted by the player with his shoulder. If he targets the head then we can expect the punishment to be harsh so as to follow the lead from World Rugby towards player welfare and protecting the players’ heads. From the game footage we can see that shoulder contact is made with the shoulder of the Trinity player.
And the third area to examine is if there is a precedent set by World Rugby in their treatment of foul play. World Rugby regulations states that the sanction is a two week ban at the lower end with a maximum sanction of 52 weeks. Examples of players getting a one year ban for a single act of foul play are few and far between. Remember this is a game played the world over, at all ages and by both genders. Thousands of games of rugby happen every weekend. From all of those games over the last century we have only a handful of recorded instants where players have received punishments as lengthy as this player from Wesley College.
Springbok prop Johan le Roux was given an 18-month suspension for biting All Black Captain Sean Fitzpatrick’s ear in a Test match in Wellington in 1994. His lack of remorse may have contributed to the severity of the ban as le Roux stated after the ban, “…I feel I should have torn it off. Then at least I could say, ‘look, I’ve returned to South Africa with the guys ear’.”
In 2009 David Attoub of State Francais received a 70 week ban for eye gouging Ulster’s Stephen Ferris in a fiery Heineken Cup match. While in 1985 Pontypool’s scrum-half was handed an eleven month ban for breaking the jaw of a opposition second rower.
In the 2012 Louis Vuitton Cup final between Northampton and Leicester, Calum Clark was found guilty of intentionally hyper-extending and breaking Rob Hawkin’s arm. He received an initial ban of 64 weeks but that was halved due to his early guilty plea.
In 1990 a Welshman named Kevin Moseley received his marching orders on the field for stamping on French winger Marc Andrieu and was subsequently given a 32 week ban for his act of foul play.
If you would like to know what a well drilled Rugby team looks like, go to the replay of last Sunday’s feature match…
Where does our shoulder charge in question sit amongst these acts of foul play? Is it more than five times worse than the head butt that South African Bakkies Botha gave to the back of All Black half-back Jimmy Cowan for which he received a nine week ban. Or what about Percy Montgomery pushing touch judge Peter Rees to the ground in 2003. He received a two year ban but 18 months of the punishment was suspended so he served a six month ban.
Closer to home Dharmaraja College players put eight St. Joseph’s players in hospital last season in a brawl that had both benches and supporters involved and their ban was for six months to be served during the off-season.
There is also the small matter of actually having a hearing so Wesley College can put forward their case. They must be given an opportunity to take responsibility, which I believe the Wesley Principle did very graciously in an open and honest apology to Trinity College, and then perhaps an admission of guilt and even a show of remorse. Without the opportunity to at least present a case we must ask if this is justice or just a kangaroo court.
Also is the panel who passed down their judgement impartial or could there be a conflict of interest involved in the punishment. No one who is involved with a school that is playing Wesley College during the next four games, that is a school who would benefit from Wesley having players unavailable to play against them, should be on that panel.
I wonder what my grandfather, the man who taught me about fair play, would think of the current situation where a young man’s opportunity to play in his last year of schoolboy rugby could be taken away because of a shoulder charge and a heavy handed punishment. I know he would not have accepted the unruly scuffle and I doubt he would have accepted the procedure that followed.