Thursday 21 September 2017

Tuilagi ban a slap in face for justice

Hugh Farrelly

Throwing the perfect punch has always been a dubious aspiration. Indeed, throwing a punch of any description would be a start, but it has never come naturally to those of us who are inherently pacific.

This has less to do with cowardice than an aversion to pain, because punching... well, it hurts, irrespective of whether you are a giver or taker.

Thankfully, fist-avoidance has been relatively easy to organise over the years.

On the occasions when violence did present itself, it was possible to defuse the tension by putting up 'the dukes' and rotating them Gentleman Jim Corbett-style while adopting the 'Why I oughta...' stance of a 1930s Hollywood gangster.

Then there is the 'vicious face' usually kept in reserve for hazardous trips to the local shop. Living in what even the notorious 'Scissor Sisters' would refer to as a "rough" part of Dublin, this establishment caters for the toe-jam of Jackeen society as evidenced by a helpful till operator who once enquired: "Sir, you are aware this bottle of wine costs over €8?"

The vicious face comes in handy when confronted by the Dutch Gold Gang loitering at the shop entrance ("back off boys, I'm not wearing glasses") or when trying to shame some harping, wrinkled crone out of her pyjamas and slippers -- an outfit which seems to be donned purely to mock those of us paying taxes towards her John Player Blue-dominated life.

It is doubtful whether any vicious face or James Cagney pretensions would have saved Chris Ashton last weekend. Manu Tuilagi, the latest southern hemisphere-born player lined up by England's 'just add water' inclusion policy, absolutely nailed the Northampton winger with a left-right combination that made for particularly painful viewing in slow motion.

The Leicester centre is a talented player and, by all accounts, "a lovely guy off the pitch" (heavy sigh) but his was a savage assault that deserved a lengthy and cautionary ban -- not least for the thousands of youngsters who pore over the incident on YouTube.

Instead, we got a risible reprimand of 10 weeks which was then, incredibly, cut in half. It means Tuilagi (featuring prominently on Martin Johnson's radar for the World Cup) will miss the English Premiership final at the end of May and the Churchill Cup in June, but will be back in time for the July squad sessions and crucial warm-up matches in August. Jolly good.

The reasons given for the ban-slash by the English RFU's disciplinary officer Judge Jeff Blackett compounded the overall sense of farce.

"Had it occurred in the high street an offender would have been prosecuted in the criminal courts. Nevertheless, we are confident that Manu Tuilagi will learn a valuable lesson."

So, that's alright then.

Blackett also cited "mitigating circumstances" revolving around the fact that Tuilagi had been provoked. Now, Ashton is no wilting pansy but this 'provocation' amounted to a slight push in the back which, ordinarily, would not be worthy of any reaction and should not be when your livelihood and the success of the franchise that employs you is dependent on that response.

Mitigating

Provocation is a mitigating circumstance but it depends on the levels it reaches. Sean O'Brien and Brian O'Driscoll both correctly escaped censure recently for reacting instinctively to extreme provocation by throwing the fist. Paul O'Connell was not as fortunate and got a four-week ban, even though he was not even looking at Jonathan Thomas when he swung his arm behind.

It is not hypocritical to defend Irish players while castigating Samoan/English ones. It is a question of common sense, which prevailed for O'Brien and O'Driscoll but was abandoned in the cases of O'Connell and Tuilagi.

Tuilagi should have received a ban that would have extended into September, spoiling his World Cup ambitions and sending out a clear message that unwarranted thuggery will not be tolerated.

Unfortunately, common sense has been in short supply in recent years when it comes to disciplinary sanctions -- Schalk Burger gets six weeks for a blatant, sustained, attack on the eye; Shane Jennings gets 12 despite inconclusive evidence -- and, however it is approached, a level of consistency in terms of crime and punishment needs to be prioritised.

If only the vicious face could scare the authorities out of their pyjamas.

Irish Independent

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