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An analysis of recent disciplinary cases from European Professional Club Rugby

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Thursday, 18 February 2016 By Luke Sayer

Prior to the start of the RBS Six Nations Championship 2016, there was change in the air. For the first time, England appointed a foreign head coach.1 Conversely, history continued to repeat itself, as potential squad members for the respective nations in the Championship fall foul of suspensions2 imposed pursuant to the worldwide governance of World Rugby.

This article presents the background to the disciplinary process within European Professional Club Rugby, the organising body for the European Rugby Champions Cup and the European Rugby Challenge Cup (together the European Rugby Cups). It will then present the findings of different disciplinary hearings arising from Round 5 the European Rugby Cups, coupled with a practical analysis.

 

THE EUROPEAN PROFESSIONAL CLUB RUGBY (EPCR) DISCIPLINARY PROCESS

The European Rugby Cups are played in accordance with World Rugby's Laws of the Game of Rugby Union (as amended from time to time), as varied or supplemented by EPCR3 (the Laws).4

Whilst the Laws apply to 'on the field' matters, the World Rugby Handbook5 (the Handbook), applies to 'off the field' matters and contains Regulation 176 – "Discipline – Foul Play" which applies to any disciplinary action in relation to "Foul Play" offences as defined by Law 10.

The Preamble7 to Regulation 17 includes, but is not limited to, the following underlying rationale of the Regulation:

  1. to maintain and promote fair play, protect the health and welfare of Players;
  2. a harmonised approach to the administration of discipline and the implementation of sanctions for Foul Play at all levels of the Game; and
  3. an overall objective that the disciplinary process shall comply with the fundamental principles of natural justice.

As part of the "Core Principles" within Regulation 17,8 Citing Commissioners and/or Citing Commissioner Liaison Officers shall be appointed for all international matches and matches set out in Regulation 17.3.2 and 17.3.3.9

EPCR confirms10 that Citing Commissioners are appointed for all Champions Cup and all televised Challenge Cup matches and are entitled to cite a player for any act or acts of Foul Play (as defined in the Laws) that in the Citing Commissioner's opinion warranted a red card (the "Red Card" test [Regulation 17.9.1]).

The Citing Commissioner will have a maximum of 48 hours from the conclusion of the match to make a citing. In certain circumstances this deadline can be extended.11

Thereafter, the EPCR Disciplinary Officer may forward the submitted citing to a Citing Officer to determine whether there are sufficient grounds for the citing to progress. If so, the Disciplinary Officer will then bring a charge against the cited player.

 

THE DISCIPLINARY HEARING

A disciplinary hearing resulting from a citing in relation to European Rugby Cups adopts the following format:

  1. Once a charge is brought against a player and pursuant to Regulation 17.13.1 (c),12 an independent Judicial Officer is chosen by the chairman of the EPCR independent Disciplinary Panel, Professor Lorne Crerar;
  2. The EPCR's Disciplinary Officer presents the case against the player;
  3. In accordance with principles of natural justice, the cited player and/or his representative(s) shall have the right to be heard, produce evidence and defend themselves;13
  4. If the citing complaint is upheld, the independent Judicial Officer will be required to consider the appropriate sanction;14
  5. Under World Rugby's sanctioning regime, which the EPCR is obliged to follow, the Judicial Officer will first assess the seriousness of the player's actions and determine which of the three stipulated entry points (lower end, mid range and top end – as set out in Appendix 115
  6. The Judicial Officer will determine the appropriate entry point based on a number of particular characteristics, including whether or not it was intentional and whether or not they caused injury;16 and
  7. Thereafter, the sanction will be increased for any aggravating factors, such as a poor disciplinary record and/or decreased due to certain mitigating factors, such as a guilty plea.17

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About the Author

Luke Sayer

Luke Sayer

Luke is a lawyer specialising in litigation, both commercial and civil, regulatory matters, employment law and image rights with Carey Olsen, Guernsey. Luke has a wide range of experience from his five years as a qualified solicitor. Luke has a passion for sports law and is interested in most sports particularly rugby, football, athletics, and cricket. He previously represented England Students and Leicester Tigers at rugby union whilst attending the University of Nottingham.

@lukesayer15

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