George Hook: Authorities must come down hard on mindless violence – regardless of the player’s reputation
The independent Six Nations Disciplinary Committee decided that Brian O'Driscoll should be given a three-week suspension for a stamp on Simone Favaro in the Italy game last Saturday. The Irish centre pleaded that his actions did not merit a red card. The committee decided otherwise.
Once again, rugby has failed to grasp the nettle of foul play and for the second time in this championship, an Irish player has been found guilty of an offence against the person of an opponent. Had the action taken place in one of Ireland's streets on a Friday night, then a District Judge might have had a different attitude.
Leinster and Ireland took a cynical view of the punishment of Cian Healy and drove a coach and four through the spirit of the suspension. Healy and his lawyer had argued, among other things, that extending the three-week suspension over four weekends was not permissible under the relevant regulations.
The loosehead missed just one international match for the stamp that could have broken Dan Cole's leg. This week, O'Driscoll was given a three-week suspension which will do little more than give him the rest he so badly needs. The price paid by Healy and O'Driscoll does not bear comparison with the offence of stamping with a studded boot on the body of a helpless opponent.
Rugby is now, even when played fairly, an extremely dangerous game. Mothers, who invariably have a much lower tolerance of foul play, will have watched the acts of violence perpetrated on the field.
In their minds' eyes, they will see their sons helpless on the ground. The logical conclusion is not to allow young men to play the game if they face injury and disfigurement. The game has a problem and the authorities are failing in their duty by not introducing a policy of zero tolerance.
Decades ago, New Zealand faced a problem of falling numbers of young men involved in rugby and a corresponding increase in the numbers moving to soccer. The crisis was caused by a rash of catastrophic injuries to young players in the scrum. The authorities Down Under reacted with commendable speed and introduced the underage variations that are still part of the scrum law today.
Nobody is suggesting that O'Driscoll is a dirty player but he does carry a greater responsibility to the game than players whose standing in the game is less. He is revered by men and women, young and old, players and spectators alike.
If he is seen with near impunity to commit an act of violence, then young impressionable minds will see it as okay and it will appear in schools competitions a year later. The authorities must come down hard on mindless acts of violence, irrespective of the reputation and standing of the player.
However, it was right, as it would be in a court of law, that a previous history of good behaviour should be taken in to consideration. Yet in Tipperary tonight, Alan Quinlan will no doubt be contemplating the price he paid for an episode of foul play.
Quinlan, because of a coincidence of timing, was omitted from a Lions tour that hurt him financially and cost him the dream of a lifetime. O'Driscoll will not face that sanction because June is a long way away. In fact he may be rewarded with the accolade of being captain.
Once upon a time there was a great tradition in rugby union, and it made it what the Victorians said "was a game for ruffians played by gentleman."
The position of the prone, helpless player was protected not by law but by a code of ethics.
It is time to call a halt to stamping and recognise it for what it is – common assault.