Wednesday 22 November 2017

Six Nations left with egg on faces as Healy walks

Cian Healy can smile again after the IRFU’s successful appeal on the length of his ban for stamping
Cian Healy can smile again after the IRFU’s successful appeal on the length of his ban for stamping
David Kelly

David Kelly

On his way into Carton House this evening, Cian Healy may be of a mind to do the Lotto.

The Leinster and Ireland loose-head prop's fortunes have taken a turn for the better after the latest in a series of cock-ups by the Six Nations allowed him to wriggle free from their supposedly watertight disciplinary clutches.

Healy was initially perceived to have been a very, very charmed individual to be slapped with a mere three-week punishment – reduced from five weeks due to his previous good behaviour – after his reckless stamping on England's Dan Cole.

The IRB have attempted to ruthlessly crack down on any incidents involving stamping, regardless of context or consequence, and privately they were dismayed to see such a punishment meted out after such a high-profile incident at Lansdowne Road.

However, the Six Nations compounded their initial decision by coating the sanction in so much legalistic nonsense and confusion that they struggled to convey why a three-week ban would take four weeks to serve.


Eyeing up the opportunity to burst through a gap that simply should not have been there, the IRFU were handed a lifeline when they spotted an apparent loophole in the extensive written judgment.

In essence, the Six Nations erred in assuming that Healy would not be made available to play for Leinster on a non-Six Nations weekend.

This resulted in them shifting the goalposts to ensure that Healy's suspension would encompass two internationals. In essence, they ruled that the three-week ban would, in fact, be served over a four-week period. Ultimately, this proved to be a grave mistake.

And the IRFU erred, too, in not sussing this anomaly out on the day – which they might have done had they bothered to send a legal representative.

The intention of all justice – that to do the crime means doing the time – may have been top of the Six Nations disciplinary agenda, but ensuring that they had the comprehensive authority to do so does not seem to have been very high on the list of priorities.

And so in Glasgow yesterday, despite the IRFU opting against sending their top lawyer to the original disciplinary hearing – the wise suits originally sent Declan Kidney, as if the head coach hasn't enough on his plate at the moment – they managed to spring their man free thanks to a gaping loophole.

And 'Spring' is the apposite word – for the IRFU belatedly deployed the expertise of their favoured legal eagle, Donal Spring, the former Ireland second-row, to successfully argue that Healy might very well have played against Treviso had his employers so wished.

Even though Kidney apparently struggled to articulate this point at the original hearing – so much so that the disciplinary committee utterly dismissed the argument – Spring's argument gained greater credence in yesterday's appeal hearing.

Spring's legal expertise has helped the IRFU on many previous occasions and this was another notable effort from him.

Ireland have, thus, received a notable and timely psychological boost to their preparations for the final two games of a championship campaign that has hit the buffers following successive defeats to England and Scotland. Tom Court, despite positive form for Ulster, struggled against the Scots' second-choice tighthead Geoff Cross in Murrayfield last weekend, and his replacement Dave Kilcoyne fared little better.

Ireland will be strengthened by Healy's return, once he ensures that he can eradicate the temper tantrums that seemed to grip him for lengthy periods during the defeat to England.

For the Six Nations, this represents an embarrassing setback in the campaign to limit violence on the field, leaving egg on their collective faces.

Irish Independent

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