Sunday 24 September 2017

'Bite cite' stigma will follow Healy round like shadow

Despite escaping punishment, Leinster prop will be haunted by the horrowing hearing process and tour-ending injury

Cian Healy arrives for the hearing into allegations of biting at the Hilton Hotel in Brisbane, Australia.
Cian Healy arrives for the hearing into allegations of biting at the Hilton Hotel in Brisbane, Australia.
Conor George

Conor George

SPARE a thought for Cian Healy. He experienced the worst day of his rugby life when what was supposed to be the greatest experience of his career turned into a nightmare over the course of a dramatic night and day in Perth.

Healy had been favoured to win a Test position in the front-row when the Lions face Australia on June 22. Instead he'll be watching the games from his home in Dublin, his Lions tour over because of injury.

Just hours after his exoneration from an allegation of biting an opponent, Healy's worst fears were realised when it was confirmed he has "extensive" ligament damage in his ankle and is facing months on the sidelines and possibly surgery.

It was a day and an experience that will haunt him, possibly for the rest of his career.

The initial relief that the biting allegation was shown to be without foundation was tempered by the worry that the issue will not be scrubbed from his CV.

There was a degree of unspoken anger within the Lions camp that the allegation should have been made at all but the very fact that it went before a citing commissioner means that it can never be denied.

Healy's suspension after the game against England in the Six Nations is often referred to on occasions when his name is quoted in newspaper and magazine articles.

The concern now is that this latest incident will be coupled with that in the future.

The fact that the allegation was thrown out came as no surprise.

It was obvious from video replays of the incident that his opponent, Brett Sheehan, banged Healy on the mouth as he put out his arm to break his fall.

Why the Western Force scrum-half chose to complain to the referee at the time and make the accusation that he had been bitten is a mystery.

If there was some evidence of injury to his arm, surely the referee would have produced a red card on the spot?

It is especially disappointing that citing commissioner Freek Burger, a South African, decided Healy had a case to answer when the match TMO clearly stated during the game that "there is no evidence of that" when he was asked to review the available footage.

It resulted in the player having to endure a torturous day yesterday as he was forced to deny and defend himself against a heinous allegation.

Healy's morning started with the hearing at the Lions' team hotel in Brisbane, The Hilton.

The loosehead was accompanied to the hearing by Brian O'Driscoll, who spoke as a character witness for his Ireland, Leinster and Lions team-mate, and the tourists' legal representative Max Duthie.

NATURE

The hearing started at 9.0am (1.0am Irish time) yesterday morning and lasted two and a half hours.

These hearings are run like a court case in front of a single judicial officer, in this case Nigel Hampton QC.

Hampton, an independent appointee who will serve for the duration of the tour, reviewed the charge and the evidence with Healy and his team before affording the player the floor to put his side of the events across.

Healy was then given time to read the statement made by Sheehan. He was then asked to respond before being questioned by Hampton.

He was then dismissed as Hampton deliberated his findings before calling Healy back an hour later, approximately 12.30pm local time when the written finding of Healy's innocence was conveyed to the player.

That would have been the end of Healy's nightmare day except for the injury sustained later on in Wednesday night's game, and the prop then made his way to a Brisbane hospital, where his ankle was scanned and the ligament damage was confirmed.

His faint hopes of playing a part in the Test series were crushed when the Lions doctors, James Robson and Eanna Falvey, reviewed the scan and confirmed that his tour was over.

The statement, released at 8.15pm local time (11.15am Irish) brought Healy's harrowing day to a close in Brisbane, and it is expected he will fly home to Dublin after the weekend, with his place in the squad taken by England's Alex Corbisiero; Scotland loosehead Ryan Grant has been drafted in as cover for Gethin Jenkins, who has a calf problem.

The experiences of the last two days will have been horrendous for a player widely recognised as one of the toughest and hardest but cleanest and fairest in the game.

Healy is recognised as a formidable opponent in the most abrasive area of rugby contests.

The physical commitment is huge in the front row and the Irish prop has always shown a commendable degree of restraint.

Players can get over injuries. That is a risk they live with constantly. He will almost certainly tour New Zealand with the Lions in four years time.

What will hurt more is that the accusation made by Sheehan and given air by Burger will endure, despite independent judicial officer finding that the allegation was without foundation and Healy had no case to answer.

It is an ugly mess and one that has been made all the worse by the cruelty of his tour being over despite the hearing's findings.

 

Key players in yesterday's drama

The Victim

Cian Healy

One of the most naturally-talented young props in the country, the 25-year-old is an established Ireland international with 39 caps to his name. He is a multiple Heineken Cup winner with Leinster and has a reputation of being one of the cleanest players in professional rugby.

He was a member of the Ireland U-20s' Grand Slam winning side and was included in Ireland's extended 2009 Six Nations squad.

The Dubliner is a powerful and pacy presence in the loose and an improving scrummager. Made his debut in the November 2009 draw with Australia and further enhanced his reputation in the defeat of World Champions South Africa at Croke Park.

He was favoured to be the Test loosehead prop for the Lions.

The Friend

Brian O'Driscoll

A former Ireland, Leinster and Lions captain he is a true legend of the game and is a player and a figure who commands worldwide respect.

He has over 100 caps with Ireland and led the Irish team to four Triple Crowns (in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2009) as well as a Championship and Grand Slam.

This is his fourth Lions Tour and he attended the hearing as a character witness for his Lions, Ireland and Leinster team-mate.

The Lawyer

Max Duthie (Lions legal representative)

Duthie is a partner in Bird & Bird's market-leading sports group. On the tour, he is principally responsible for advising and representing the Lions players on rugby disciplinary matters. He has extensive experience in rugby disciplinary work, having worked for, among others, the International Rugby Board, Six Nations, ERC, Celtic Rugby, the RFU, the WRU as well as various clubs and players. Before embarking on a legal career, Duthie played professional rugby union in England and France, and won two Cambridge Blues.

The Accuser

Brett Sheehan (Western Force scrum-half)

The 33-year-old has amassed seven caps for Australia. Sheehan joined Western Force from the New South Wales Warratahs in 2010, having played four Super 12 matches in his single season at Queensland Reds in 2005. He has also played rugby league for the Brisbane Broncos and South Sydney.

He claimed Healy bit him in the 17th minute of the game but at half-time acknowledged it may have been an accident. He made a statement to the citing commissioner Freek Burger.

The Citing Commissioner

Freek Burger

A former South African referee, he was appointed as South African Rugby Union's (SARU) only citing officer for the 2010/11 Super14.

Burger decided to review the footage of the incident, took Sheehan's statement, cited Healy and flew back to South Africa, washing his hands of the incident.

The Judge

Nigel Harmon, QC (An independent judicial appointed by the ARU)

Nigel graduated LL.B in 1964 from Canterbury University being awarded the gold medal for top graduate for the year, and was admitted to the Bar in 1965. Since then he has been appointed Queen's Counsel in 1989 and served as president of the Canterbury Law Society; and vice-president of the NZ Law Society.

Nigel was the chair of the NZ Lawyers' Disciplinary Tribunal; the first disciplinary commissioner for International Criminal Court based in The Hague, Netherlands; and was the chief justice of Tonga, 1995-97. He serves as a judicial officer for NZ Rugby Union, SANZAR and International Rugby Board. Nigel was awarded the OBE (1988) and CM (1990).

Irish Independent

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