With howls of derision emerging from all parts of Italy regarding the banning of their talisman and captain Sergio Parisse, and Ireland's Cian Healy appealing against his suspension for stamping, Planet Rugby takes a deeper look into the two cases to understand the need for discipline in our sport.
It's easy to look at the suspensions of both the Azzuri skipper and the Irish Prop and conclude that Parisse has been hard done by, and Healy is a rather lucky young man.
Yes if you applied 'the bar room test', then you'd conclude that off the field of play, Healy could be charged with assault and Parisse with nothing other than a cheap remark.
But look slightly deeper and a wider agenda is obvious. In a contact sport, respect for officials is absolutely paramount in order to maintain discipline on the pitch. It is the one quality that sets rugby apart from other sports, and is something that we, as players, writers and watchers, must maintain above all others.
If the disciplinary process is followed correctly and consistently then the outcome will be appropriate for the crime. This, in a nutshell, means that two cases that look similar on face value may have different outcomes despite having the same entry point under IRB Reg 17. It is difficult to compare the two cases that are highlighted. Healy's, as we understand it, had mitigating factors (clean record, English player on wrong side, etc), whereas Parisse's case had aggregating factors in terms of his record with this type of offence.
The key word there is 'if.'
Healy's stamp could have ended Dan Cole's career. It was reminiscent of Marius Bosman's stamp on Doddie Weir in the Lions tour of 97, a stamp that ended Weir's rugby life and consigned the big Scot to his farm. If you then look at Healy's obvious punch that was not cited, it's fair to conclude he's gotten off quite lightly.
Parisse on the other hand is known for his excitable pressuring of referees. He has been warned and carded before for 'backchat' and must now realise that this is not tolerable or acceptable.
His ban, whilst robbing the Six Nations of a true great of the modern game, is essential to send out the right message.
However, there is a palpable lack of evidence, and, perhaps a suggestion that the LNR and FFR are penalising Parisse for having the temerity to lead Italy to the destruction their beloved XV de France, leaving les Bleus rooted at the foot of the Championship. None of that does the game any favours, but we reiterate that the core value of on field conduct is respect, and on that measure alone, Parisse's sentence is one that should remind all players of their responsibility.
Are both bans fair and commensurate with the crime?
It is a complex issue and one that needs adjudication at the highest level. Currently, sanctions are in the hands of the relevant union if a domestic game, and with the Six Nations organising committee during a Test.
In the international season, and in the case of current international players, surely it would be appropriate for the IRB to 'referee' the disciplinary process at all levels in order that criticism of the domestic unions be avoided?
This would obviate any notion or accusation that the officials can manipulate bans for their own means (a case in point would be Manu Tuilagi's very lenient sentence last season for punching Chris Ashton, surprisingly allowing him to be available for England duties!) and it would also allow absolute consistency, remove any doubts and accusations of bias, and allow true integrity and fairness in terms of punishment and crime.
As the LNR might have said when sentencing Parisse, I rest my case!
By James While