Thursday 22 August 2019

Hypocrisy rules in Castres case against the Claw

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

IF they ever make a movie on Peter Clohessy's life, James Gandolfini gets to play 'The Claw', right?

Okay, he might seem a little timid for the role. The more you hear from Tony Soprano on the psychiatrist's chair, the more you get a glimpse of a wild boar spooked by his own reflection in a stream. But, at least, he's got the squat architecture of a prop forward. And, more critically, he could strip paint with his glare.

Clohessy's hardness invites caricature, his nickname feeds it. You can tell you're not dealing with a Tim Henman-type when someone answers to a moniker like 'The Claw'. His persona is a kind of throw-back to De Niro in Raging Bull.

In fact, given the urban myths now barnacled to Clohessy's story, the wonder is that he doesn't eat dinner through a grill.

True, he brings a bit of history to the table. Six years ago, when his studs recklessly tattooed the scalp of Olivier Roumat in Paris, I was one of those agitating for a life ban. The incident, you see, was not an isolated one in the story of Peter Martin Clohessy.

He had already served a ten-week suspension in '94 after television pictures caught him stamping on the head of St Mary's Steve Jameson in an All-Ireland League game. And, two years earlier, Australian coach Bob Dwyer branded him "a disgrace" after Wallaby prop, Dan Crowley, sustained a serious head wound during a Tour defeat by Munster.

Other names like those of Johnny Murphy and Stephen Rooney had also been stapled to the victims' file. 'The Claw', at the time, was accumulating more grisly credits than Vincent Price. In the rugby vernacular, he brought what one former Irish manager rather brazenly labelled "certain attributes" to the battlefield.

Those words hinted at the complicity of others officials, team-mates, in what was, then, the ultimate parable of self-destruction. The incident with Roumat which resulted in a 26-week ban was no startling aberration.

Clohessy's habits were going from bad to scary.

It was reckoned at the time that he might be lost to rugby. Friends reported in the immediate aftermath that they had "never seen him so low". At 29, it was thought unlikely that he would return.

But, of course, Peter Clohessy did return. More than that, he re-invented himself. Barring injury on Munster duty next weekend, the Limerick man will win his 50th international cap when Wales visit Lansdowne Road on February 2. The statistic is a credit to him.

Those of us who would have sent him to the salt mines in ankle-chains six years ago have, thus, been exposed as the kind of compassionless charlatans who would have turned Joseph and Mary away from the B&B.


Well, perhaps that's over-stating it. Clohessy may be a reformed character but he's not about to audition for Tinker Bell. What he has done is to grow up immeasurably. To accept the potentially lethal gravity of his former sins. In essence, to take responsibility.

He has become a cornerstone of Munster's and Ireland's recent glories without reverting to the sulphurous impulses of old. Yet, in a sense, he remains an easy target. The infamy gained in '96 will forever be a kind of asterisk beneath his name.

Thus, the recent machinations of French club, Castres, resonated with a rather sordid opportunism. When Clohessy stepped from a European Cup ruck with a 5cm bite mark on his left arm, apparently deposited by Ismaella Lassissi's teeth, the French club rather crudely threw out a race card.

Lassissi, a native of the Ivory Coast, is black. So, as it became clear that Munster intended citing him for the bite, Castres countered by citing Clohessy for "racial abuse".

The French club's director, Patrick Alran, was particularly forceful, claiming that Castres' Scottish out-half, Gregor Townsend, actually drew the abuse to the attention of referee, Tony Spreadbury. "During the game, Ismaella went to Gregor and said that rude words were being used against him," said Alran.

Castres president, Pierre-Yves Revol, bluntly described Clohessy on French radio as "provocative and a cheat". Just one snag. When contacted, neither Townsend nor Spreadbury could recall any such incident in the game.

So, lo and behold, Castres withdrew the allegations against Clohessy before they could be considered by the ERC committee last Thursday. Lassissi, meanwhile, was banned for the minimum of twelve months.

Case closed then? Em, not quite.

Alran responded to Munster's request for a blood test on Lassissi by describing the province's behaviour as "disgusting". He added curiously "If he was white, would they have asked about an Aids test? I don't think so. It's a blatant act of racism."

And Lassissi himself told l'Equipe that Clohessy would have to "sort out his problems with God."

If this was a movie, the critics would pan it for an absence of realism. Because this is spooky. It's Evander Holyfield getting pilloried for pushing his ear too close to Mike Tyson's teeth.

One man is found guilty of dining on another man's flesh, yet the chap with his mouth full sees himself as victim? Meat a little tough, maybe. Hey, go figure, Tone.

Better still, get on the phone to Dr Jennifer.

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