One thing we’ve learned from ugly optics on the rugby field is that what you see is not always what you get. So the seemingly awful stamp of Cian Healy on the ankle of Dan Cole was actually not as bad as appeared on action replays, and is unlikely to get him a lengthy ban tomorrow. I’d say he’ll get three weeks, and maybe just two.
Consider it under two criteria: intent and effect.
Healy’s intent was not cynical. Brutal, obviously, but not cynical. In 2006 and 2008 the IRB issued directives to referees and judicial officers to, excuse the pun, come down hard on those who stamped on exposed limbs at the ruck.
It is gratuitous, potentially dangerous, and in no way related to freeing the ball so your team can get on with the game. It’s a case of taking the opportunity to inflict some pain on a helpless opponent. A classic example, which went unpunished, was Tom Court stamping on Leo Cullen in the Christmas derby in Ravenhill this season. Cullen jumped up full of fury at the time, and calmed down subsequently – maybe because he has done a bit of it himself through the years.
In Healy’s case, he didn’t arrive on the scene and then trample on Cole for the fun of it. On the contrary – he raced to it when he saw Cole (who was on the floor and therefore obliged to do nothing other than get out of the way) raise his right leg to impede Conor Murray in clearing the ball. It was reactionary rather than opportunistic.
Referee Jerome Garces had already indicated a penalty but by this stage Healy is on the charge. He can’t get at the ball where Murray is trying to free it, so he goes to the right hand side where Cole’s leg is still raised, and then stamps the offending foot back to earth. Next, he shoves it back out of the way. Whereupon he turns to look at Garces as if to ask why the ref hadn’t run in and done the same.
Interestingly, England hooker Tom Youngs reacts by having a go at Peter O’Mahony, who had taken a slice off Cole’s backside with a hefty stamp, rather than Healy.
As for the effect of Healy’s action, it was successful in moving the offending limb out of the way, and Cole – in fairness to him he made nothing of the incident – got up and played on. He was treated seven minutes later.
Healy has played 37 times for Ireland and 110 times for Leinster and, remarkably, has no cards for foul play. If you take it that the apparent ruthlessness used in the incident will have him in the mid range category, where the starting point is five weeks, then his good record will push him towards low end, which has an entry point of two weeks.
The tricky bit is the IRB instruction to judicial officers. They can’t be seen to issue instructions on the one hand and then not follow through with them on the other. The judicial officer, Roger Morris, however, will appreciate that the landscape is littered with examples of players being trampled on – with varying degrees of vigour – and getting away with it because it is doing so little damage. So it’s not as if the IRB’s directives have given us consistency on the issue. Lumping Healy with a hefty ban won’t achieve that.