With the Rugby World Cup 2015 pool phase completed, 22 cases were heard by the fully independent disciplinary team, resulting in 17 sanctions for foul play and three appeal decisions. These decisions are entirely in line with the pre-tournament aims of ensuring consistent application of the disciplinary process and protecting the welfare of the world’s top players.
World Rugby’s number one priority is player welfare and this principle is at the heart of the rugby-specific sanctioning regime, set out in World Rugby Regulation 17 and reflected within the 2015 tournament disciplinary process. The key aims of welfare and consistent application of the process were the subject of pre-tournament presentations to all Rugby World Cup 2015 participating teams and the media.
World Rugby Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “Player welfare is of paramount importance and in line with rugby’s values of respect, discipline and integrity, we reiterated that zero-tolerance would apply to dangerous foul play and in particular the areas of dangerous challenges in the air, dangerous high tackles or neck rolls and striking or stamping.
Experienced, independent panel
“The application of the process, including citing review and hearings, has been applied in an expedited manner for the benefit of participating teams, by a highly-experienced team of Citing Commissioners and Judicial Officers who are applying World Rugby’s disciplinary regulations in a wholly consistent and fair manner.”
The experienced panel includes former international players and coaches (Peter Larter, Mike Rafter and Robbie Deans), experienced provincial players and referees and others who have a strong rugby background. The Judicial Officers include current judges (from England, Canada and the President of the South African Court of Appeal), Queen’s Counsel and senior barristers who are credible, knowledgeable and all with a strong rugby background and selected on merit following a rigorous selection process.
Neutrality policy and citing period
Judicial appointments are neutral of the teams involved. Citing appointments are based upon neutrality relative to the match officials and the teams and this was achieved during the pool phase. Passage neutrality will be applied for all the knock-out phase appointments. All incidents of foul play are considered within the citing period of 36 hours which also includes a window for any team referrals (12 hours). During this period the entire match is reviewed by the Citing Commissioner and all incidents categorised against the red card threshold test. Incidents which do not reach this test may result in a Citing Commissioner Warning (there have been 10 CCWs issued in the tournament to date) or no further action.
No two cases are the same – consistency achieved by application of the process
While there has been commentary and assumptions made regarding a perceived lack of consistency in the outcomes, it is consistency in the application of the disciplinary process which is sought to be achieved. It is notable that while two incidents may appear similar in nature, e.g., the same law is breached, the sanctions may differ due to the case facts, e.g. admission versus no admission of the act of foul play.
It is equally not appropriate to compare the sanction imposed in respect of different types of foul play as they are not comparable given the different sanction entry points that apply. Therefore, it is important that the written decisions (available via rugbyworldcup.com within 24 hours of the hearing oral decision) are considered in detail as they set out precisely how each sanction is reached and the particular factual findings in each case – all of which are unique. Why is this relevant? Because the nature of the offending is completely different, including on-field elements and off-field mitigating and aggravating factors such as disciplinary record or admissions of guilt or remorse.
Each area of foul play has a recommended set of sanctions for offending based on an entry point. The entry points are set out in the sanctioning schedule within Regulation 17, originally created in 2005 by then luminaries of the game and which was reviewed in 2012 by an independent process involving former players (including John Smit, Danny Grewcock, Chris Paterson, Al Baxter, David Barnes), coaches (Didier Retière, Joe Lydon, Robbie Deans), match officials (Ed Morrison, Paddy O’Brien) and members of the media and resulted in a slight recalibration of the disciplinary sanctions table. Each sanction carries a low, mid and high end entry point which were determined by the game to be fair and appropriate, with severity depending on the types and seriousness of offending.
Once the entry point for sanction is determined, the Judicial Officer must impose the corresponding sanction (which can be reduced by up to 50 per cent if there are mitigating factors and can be increased if there are aggravating factors). In most cases at Rugby World Cup 2015 the low end entry point has applied.
1. Dangerous tackles, challenges in the air and neck rolls were identified prior to the tournament as an area of focus for both the match official team and the disciplinary team and this is reflected in the outcomes above.
2. In respect of dangerous tackles, low end entry points have been adopted by the Judicial Officer in seven out of eight cases. Those not involving neck contact have consistently been given sanctions that are one week.
3. In respect of dangerous tackles involving contact with the neck, low end entry points have been adopted by the Judicial Officers and the sanctions are two weeks because in each case the Judicial Officer took into account as an aggravating week reflecting the inherent danger involved. This unacceptable trend in the game was a pre-identified adverse trend in the game.