Loose Pass

Date published: September 27 2016

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This week we will be mostly concerning ourselves with Chris Ashton’s teeth, Mourad Boudjellal’s sulk and Dan Carter’s bum.

Hard to swallow 

We need to talk about Chris. Well, Chris and rugby’s ultimate taboo: biting.

Loose Pass was not surprised to see rugby close ranks around the errant Saracen. It’s what we do. We honour the fallen (for this is surely it for him) and pay copious praise to their talents. Isn’t it a pity, we conclude, when a fine career is derailed by a single ‘moment of madness’.

Normally it stops there, but there’s something a little septic about this particular case. Outside the immediate environs of Franklin’s Gardens, just about everybody has felt compelled to assuage Ashton’s actions. Assuage and even excuse. Perhaps biting is no longer the ultimate taboo.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, former England man Austin Healey opined: “If you put your hand in a Rottweiler’s mouth then you should not be surprised if you get a nip on the fingers.”

Over at The Times, columnist Stephen Jones declared: “I think the ban is too long.” He was not the only one. No-one called for the book to be thrown. The consensus is that Ashton’s 13-week ban is bang on. Not overly harsh, not overly lenient. Palatable porridge.

Erm, are we missing something here? Ashton bit someone! He was found to have intentionally sunk his teeth into another man’s flesh in order to cause harm.

Somewhere along the way we’ve forgot how rugby came about. It’s a game designed to teach children how to act with nobility and to exercise reason and to keep one’s head even in the most trying of circumstances. In a world growing increasingly more loony by the day, we can’t afford to lose sight of that.

And yet it seems that we have.

If a child bites another child, they are punished quick-smart. The adult forced to arbitrate such a situation would give no quarter to mitigation or degree of severity. They wouldn’t spend hours mulling over the assailant’s previous misdemeanours, or trying to compare the bite to an entirely separate incident in which some hair was pulled or a face was scratched.

A bite is a bite. Punishment would be swift and stern. The message will be applied with force: it must never happen ever again.

But us adult rugby folk prefer to do this differently. We calibrate our crimes on a ‘Scale of Seriousness’.

For biting, the ‘Entry Level’ is a 12-week ban. A ‘Top Level’ effort carries a minimum of 24 weeks. Curiously, there’s a maximum ban of 208 weeks, which means that Ashton’s could have gone full fava-beans-and-chianti mode and still been back in ample time for the British and Irish Lions’ next tour of South Africa.

Every type of offence in rugby has its own ‘Scale of Seriousness’, and the fathomless loopiness of the exchange rate between different offences has been well-covered by others, including this site’s current editor, Ben Coles. 

These nonsensical yardsticks are the reason why many of us feel moved to pity Ashton: it’s because it has been decreed that his bite was “at that low-end entry point”. In other words, it wasn’t a very serious bite. (Bet you can’t wait to explain the difference to your local minis on Sunday, right!?)

What’s more, it was noted that Ashton had caused damage with the teeth of his lower jaw only. So, what would the ban have been had he spat out his gum-shield first? Given that one mandible is 13 weeks, could we assume it would have been a doubled-down 26 to stretch the ban right over the top end of seriousness? Of course not! There’s absolutely no logic.

And pity the poor disciplinary committee that do not have teeth-marks to ponder. ‘Testicle grabbing or twisting or squeezing’ carries the same ‘Scale of Seriousness’ as biting, but what exactly does the disciplinary panel work off? The squealing? And, if so, where does that leave simulation or play acting? And how does one even begin to read that particular scale?

It’s time for World Rugby to abandon their hunt for the unicorn that is the global season and turn their attention to this legal lunacy.
Lord knows we love our laws to be complicated, but these scales of seriousness are off the chart.

We need set sentences for offences that have been found to have been intentional, and it all needs to be managed by one unified body dedicated to the central tenet of law itself: equality.

This cannot be beyond the wit of man, can it?

Au revoir?

We’re not entirely sure how to react to Mourad Boudjellal’s latest verbal eruption.

The man who has bankrolled Rugby Club Toulonnais for the past ten years has hinted that he wants out, claiming to be “much depleted by the club”.

He says he’s taking “hits every week from guys who have not done a hundredth of what I’ve done for 10 years”, adding: “I want to live another life.”

If that’s really the case, Mr Multi-Millionare Publisher Who Owns a Rugby Club in Southern France, let’s swap.

But ‘The Comic King’ likes a bit of a chat, so we’ll take his latest fit of pique with a pinch of salt – for the moment, at least. But it does raise an interesting question: how will rugby come to judge his contribution to the game?

You can’t fault his commitment to Toulon and his passion for the game, but his economics aren’t exactly of the trickle-down variety.
So over to our French and Francophile readers: will he be missed?

Perfect ten

It might be our advancing years, but Loose Pass is of the staunch belief that tweets should remain solely the reserve of birds.

But one Twitterer (Twit?) did manage to force a smile out of us this week: step forward Dan Carter, who is ‘professional rugby player’ according to the blurb.

And ain’t it just like the All Black legend to come across as the perfect gent even with his bum hanging out?!

Credit to Leigh Halfpenny for somehow managing to shield his opponent’s modesty. Carter must have been extremely relieved that it wasn’t Chris Ashton.

Loose Pass is compiled by former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson

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