Comment: Gouge should have meant one-year ban for Ugalde

Date published: September 22 2016

You are unlikely to ever see as blatant an act of eye gouging caught on tape. And yet Matthieu Ugalde will be back playing by January.

On Thursday, the LNR banned Ugalde for 14 weeks. He should have been suspended for a whole year.

For starters, 14 weeks barely creeps over the threshold for the minimum ban a player can receive for eye-gouging, given the low-end entry point is 12 weeks. To be clear, 12 weeks is starting point for a low-end offence, not the maximum.

The mid-range entry point is 18 weeks. That means that Ugalde – who without any doubt blatantly gouged Grenoble’s Armand Batlle, hooking his fingers into his eyes from behind after Batlle had scored  – committed an act of indiscipline under World Rugby’s Sanctions for Foul Play that didn’t even meet the mid-range level.

Process that for a second. If Ugalde’s frankly disgusting act isn’t enough, then what does it therefore require to hit the top-range entry point of between 24 and 208 weeks. To actually blind the victim?

Law 10.4 (m) Contact with the eye(s) and/or eye area

Under World Rugby’s Sanctions for Foul Play, Law 10.4 (m), Contact with the eye(s) and/or eye area carries the following sanction entry points – Low End: 12 weeks; Mid-Range: 18 weeks; Top End: 24 to 208 weeks.

The action from Ugalde is bad enough before you factor in his lack of remorse. At best the below statement smacks of ignorance. At worst? Pure arrogance.

“Leaving the field, I did not remember this action. But my team-mates quickly asked me, ‘What have you done?’,” Uglade said.

“For me, it’s not a gouge. My fist was closed.”

It was not closed. And to suggest so when all the evidence points to the contrary turns an incident that might have been looked back on as simply a moment of madness from Ugalde, recklessly retaliating after his side had conceded a try, into a bigger question about his character.

Last season, Grenoble number eight Rory Grice was suspended for nine weeks after he threw away his gumshield in frustration and it accidentally hit referee Alexandre Ruiz.

Ugalde will miss just five weeks more than that, for a gouge as blatant as David Attoub’s offence in 2011 on Stephen Ferris. That resulted in a 70-week suspension.

Questioning the leniency and consistency of suspensions is nothing new and a system-wide review will eventually have to happen. But cases such as this one are crystal clear.

It has top-end offence written all over it and should have been treated as such. Instead, a 14-week suspension embarrasses the entire sport.

by Ben Coles