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The Horwill Lions hearings and the future of rugby disciplinary proceedings

The Horwill Lions hearings and the future of rugby disciplinary proceedings
Tuesday, 06 August 2013

One of the biggest sporting events of this past summer was the quadrennial British & Irish Lions rugby tour to Australia. As ever this was not without controversy in the form of allegations of stamping made against the Australian captain James Horwill and the protracted disciplinary process which followed. In this article Kevin Carpenter analyses the two hearings and the ramifications for the future of the rugby union disciplinary process.

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Comments (2)

  • Matt Kemp

    • 06 August 2013 at 20:41
    • #

    Hi Kevin

    Thanks for the article.

    While the decision of the IRB to appeal the JO's decision in the Horwill case was interesting from a neutral (South African) perspective, when viewed from this side of the world, all it appeared to do was add mud to the already murky waters of disciplinary proceedings in rugby union (as you point out).

    In fact, within a few days of the Horwill decision and appeal, there occurred two incidents which only further emphasise the challenges the IRB faces with regard to inconsistent disciplinary decisions.

    The first occurred in a Super Rugby game between the Stormers and the Cheetahs at Newlands in Cape Town, where Gio Aplon of the Stormers, became involved in a similar action to that of Horwill (whether that be called rucking or not) and made contact with an opposition player's (Henrich Brussouw's) face, with his boot. Despite the incident having clearly caused Brussouw some serious damage - he left the field immediately to have the wound along his nose and cheek stitched - nothing further came of the incident. It was in fact not even cited by the citing officer.

    In the second incident, a South African member of its Sevens rugby team, Kyle Brown, was citied and ultimately banned for "reckless" conduct that caused Brown's finger to come into contact with his Scottish opponents eyes. This case was curious as when one views a video of the incident it is patently obvious that the incident was completely accidental. (It is Mr Fredo's action of fending Brown that causes Brown to fail in his attempts to grasp Fredo, and which leads to Brown's contact with Fredo's face).

    Despite the video evidence however, the JO found there was sufficient intention on the part of Brown to warrant a 6 week ban (being 50% of the lower entry point for such incidents because of mitigating circumstances).

    On appeal however, the AO decided that there was not enough evidence to say that Brown was possessed with any intent, but rather that his actions in attempting to tackle Fredo were reckless in that he was attempting to tackle him high, and therefore ought to reasonably have been aware of the consequences of such an action.

    While this decision may correctly coincide with the IRB's policy of the sacrosanct "head area", it is problematic as it introduces, at the appeal stage, the question of the legitimacy and legality of the tackle of Brown, a question that had to that point not been raised by the citing commissioner or JO (and correctly so it I submit because the citing commissioner only has the power to cite for infringements for which a player ought to have received a red card).

    Having looked at all three of the incidents in question (Horwill, Aplon and Brown), the only thing that is clear, no matter which side of the policy fence one sits, is that the IRB's disciplinary procedures remain deeply flawed with a critical inability to treat similar cases similarly.




  • Kevin Carpenter

    • 07 August 2013 at 10:55
    • #

    Hi Matt

    Thanks for reading the article and for your comments about what has happened in South Africa subsequent to the Lions Tour.

    I'm conscious of not coming across as bashing the IRB for the sake of it because it does seek to provide some guidance to unions for non-international matches under Regs 17.26 and 17.27.

    However, as you say, if the IRB is intent (quite rightly) in keeping the head area sacrosanct then it should be more active in appealing/reviewing decisions regarding any contact with the head area in all games within its jurisdiction.

    In addition, it seems to me that citing officers should be told by the IRB, through the member unions, that for all games, even club games, any contact made with the head of an opponent by a player should automatically be cited to a JO (or equivalent in that country).



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