Friday 15 December 2017

Tony Ward: O’Driscoll pays fair price for moment of madness

Brian O'Driscoll
Brian O'Driscoll

Very few people know who Robert Williams, Mike Hamlin and John Doubleday are, but, one thing's for sure, no matter what decision these three gents made when knocking their heads together in judgment of Brian O'Driscoll, they were damned if they did and damned if they didn't.

Damned if they'd thrown the book at him and gone beyond mid-range and damned if they didn't at least hit him with some suspension at the lower end of the scale.

In their application of a three-week ban, I believe they got it right.

What the Ireland centre did in the Stadio Olimpico when stamping on Simone Favaro was reckless and dangerous and done in the rage of the moment with intent.

Forget this nonsense about "lifting his leg and bringing it down on Favaro's body."

Our greatest player stamped on Favaro out of frustration.

Frustration borne from the fact that the Italian flanker was doing what flankers – including our own – do best; slowing down ball at the breakdown. It's their stock in trade.

There are two issues here. First there is the reaction of a player whose disciplinary record is exemplary over the best part of 14 years playing at the highest level.

A reaction totally out of character for one consistently sinned against, but seldom, if ever, the sinner.

Only on this occasion he was the sinner.

What he did was, in retrospect, carried out with malice.

There is no defending this. Boot to head and fingers to eye are the most heinous of rugby crimes.

That said, boot to body is up there.

Let me qualify that by saying there is also a significant difference between a shoeing and a stamp.

Once upon a time, against certain teams, you knew, if you got caught on the wrong side of a ruck, what was coming your way.

Stamping, by contrast, is downward force set to inflict damage. The question is the level of intent.

To that end, the judiciary panel deemed it mid-range for the type of offence, thus equating to a five-week ban, with a reduction of two weeks after taking into account a virtually blemish-free record.

In accepting he'd committed an act of foul play, O'Driscoll made it easier for the jury to apply the dollop of leniency appropriate to the incident.

Of course, what was actually going through his mind at that moment, only the player himself can know.

Perhaps there was the frustration of losing the captaincy, perhaps, too, the frustration of a Six Nations campaign riddled with injury or, most likely of all, the frustration of an Italian side getting the upper hand and bossing Ireland physically at the breakdown.

Too often we see blatant inconsistency in matters of discipline globally, but, given the profile of the individual, the nature of the offence – particularly when measured against the manner in which he has carried himself and portrayed the game in such a positive light for so long – on this occasion, the disciplinary committee got it right.

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