Sunday 20 August 2017

Racism, a boot to the eye, a legal letter and a whole lot more: It's been one ugly Six Nations

Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

What an ugly Six Nations this has been at times. It's been a Championship where 'sorry' seems to be the easiest word and was enough to stave off suspension for a racial slur and where the word "banter" finally got the kicking it deserves.

It's been a Six Nations where citing commissioners and referees seem unable/unwilling to join up the dots and realise that not punishing moments of thuggery on the pitch equates to condoning them. We're playing catch-up to the boys in the southern hemisphere so maybe the guardians of the Six Nations believe the sharp edges of its game shouldn't be blunted because that's all they've got for folk who mistake that for entertainment.

We had 'Super Saturday" last year but today we've got 'Strange Saturday' where England have already wrapped up the Championship and where Ireland are fighting it out with Scotland to nab third-place 'respectability' and mid-table 'meh' although rankings remain important. And where has the suspense gone?

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Donnacha Ryan, Ireland, is tackled by Andrea Lovotti, left, and Sergio Parisse, Italy. RBS Six Nations Rugby Championship, Ireland v Italy. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

Because there wasn't a whiff of it last weekend at the Aviva Stadium. The only time Sergio Parisse really looked like he was going to do damage was when he was asked by a journalist after if Italy should be allowed stay in this tournament.

It's been a Six Nations where Joe Schmidt has come under the kind of heat he's never experienced before. It's been a Six Nations where Ireland could've beaten Wales, should've beaten France, didn't beat England yet put themselves in a position to win, which has made this the most disappointing Championship since 2013 and that's even allowing for injuries, retirement and a rough schedule.

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It's been a Six Nations where the Italy game seemed made for giving younger players more experience but the "tried and trusted" go and score nine tries which included a length-of-the-pitch effort and a stunning offload which would have made even Sonny Bill smile. And yet that win came with the rider that it was only Italy.

It's been a Six Nations where the Ireland out-half was so frustrated with how his health was spoken about that he wanted to set the record straight before the England game. Where the freedom to speak about his own health resulted in a solicitor's letter being sent to him and which was subsequently retracted.

An out-half whose parents got dragged into a public quarrel by a head coach who should have known better and who uses the word 'mate' as an exclamation mark to finish every sentence. An out-half who continues to ship late and illegal hits but which continue to be ignored by officials.

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Conor Murray shows the scars of battle after being on the receiving end of Mike Brown’s boot. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

When Conor Murray is deemed lucky that Mike Brown's boot wasn't a centimetre closer to his eye which could have resulted in unthinkable damage and when the England full-back didn't have to be called before a disciplinary panel to explain his actions were nothing but horrible reflections of rugby.

This isn't sport. This is scandalous. And don't bother with any defence about intent. Intent isn't the issue when the action is ultimately reckless. Murray agreed it was reckless while he also pointed out that what Brown did was legal in terms of kicking the ball. But that doesn't make it right. World Rugby needs to follow Murray's call and get this rule looked at immediately. What a mind-boggling sport this is that a danger like this is protected by one of it's "laws" as opposed to being guided by sense and safety.

It's been a Six Nations where Warren Gatland's verbals have been put in the shade by Eddie Jones until this week. Gatland downgraded the "Gypsy boy" comment made by England's Joe Marler to Wales' Samson Lee during their game at Twickenham last weekend to "banter".

"Look we have no issue," Gatland stated on Tuesday. "It was just a bit of banter as far as I'm concerned". You don't need to be a professional taker of offence to have found Gatland's remark distasteful at the very least, as 24 hours later he apologised: "I don't condone racism of any kind. I apologise for any offence my use of the word banter may have caused".

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Warren Gatland and Joe Schmidt, here at the Aviva Stadium back in August, renew their rivalry at the same venue on Sunday (SPORTSFILE)

This just added to what has been a wholly disgraceful mess. On Wednesday, the Six Nations let Marler off without a suspension for his "Gypsy boy" comment. The Six Nations outdid themselves with their reasoning for this as explained in a statement.

They accepted the comment was "made in the heat of the moment". As opposed to what, dear Six Nations? Have you forgotten that everything about Test rugby is "in the heat of the moment" - that is the environment players generally operate in. But it seems that environment is now being used as a reason to excuse a racist comment.

Marler was also let off because he apologised "unprompted" to Lee at half-time and because, and this is my favourite part: "Eddie Jones had reprimanded Mr Marler and reminded him of his responsibilities as an International Rugby Player". Well this is all very cosy, isn't it? Head coaches are going to have a field day next season seeing as a sort of precedent has been set and all they have got to do to get someone off a suspension is tell the powers that be that "you reminded X of his responsibilities".

Just who exactly is governing who here? Have the Six Nations suddenly started to out-source their disciplinary processes and leave it to the discretion of the head coach of the player? My God. The game has finally swallowed its own self-righteous ego and abandoned its duty to show wrong from wrong.

This Six Nations has shown that rugby needs to be protected from itself at times. And the way some disciplinary matters have been handled has left a horrible stink.

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