Flawed system allows O’Connell to walk

I began to fear the worst on the Dave Kearney concussion incident when someone with much better technology than me made reference yesterday to Paul O’Connell’s shin. Not that he was hugely relieved that the tibia was still in one piece after clunking Kearney’s head, rather that in the general scheme of things it wasn’t an offensive weapon – or at least not one you’d reach for if malice was on your mind.

Having slow motioned the sequence to a gazillionth of a second he could announce – all CSI like – that in fact O’Connell did connect with his target (the ball) using his boot. The pocket of turbulence on the flight path however was Kearney’s head, and the fact that it was O’Connell’s shin that made contact there confirmed that the whole thing was accidental.

We’ll come back to that bit.

Citing commissioner Eddie Walsh is from Athlone, and not Greenfields, as was suggested to me earlier today. He is not a card carrying Red and was chosen for the job because he is experienced and independent of Leinster and Munster. He is also – as all citing commissioners are in Ireland – a former referee.
Walsh had all the angles and slowmos to help deal with the main criterion on his worksheet: applying the red card test. So if he thinks the incident warranted a red card, he cites the player; if not, there is no case to answer. Walsh reported that the act was careless, and there is no sanction in the law book for carelessness.

In arriving at this conclusion Walsh had to decide if what O’Connell did was an insidious act of foul play. For example the same man had reckoned on exactly that when citing Bakkies Botha in the Heineken Cup the previous weekend, when the former Bok used his knee to bowl over Marcos Ayerza en route to touching down. The case was thrown out.
In order to arrive at this conclusion you have to infer intent. I was struck by the reporting elsewhere of the O’Connell incident which claimed conclusively that it was accidental. How can you arrive safely at that point without putting the player on the spot and asking him to justify his actions?

Moreover I was under the mistaken impression that the citing officer didn’t have to infer degrees of intent, rather it was enough to establish that the incident had  occurred. I’ve spoken to a few people today who earn their corn from this stuff and even they are not clear on the protocol. Their guide is the law book but seemingly there is no specific set of instructions for the citing officer. Certainly however Walsh could have cited O’Connell under Law 10.4 (C)  – ‘A player must not  kick an opponent’ – and let the wigs and gowns take it from there.

This is what he should have done. At least that way O’Connell would have had to explain why he thought it a good idea to swing a boot at the ball – did he not consider maybe regaining possession by picking it up? – when Kearney’s head was in the way. That wasn’t careless, it was plain dangerous, and avoidable, and it had serious consequences which could have been much worse.  If you can’t send players off for that, how can you claim to have player welfare at the top of your agenda?

Next September ERC will run one of its seminars for citing officers (many of whom serve in the Pro 12) where they compare notes and get up to speed on the latest things to watch out for. Perhaps by then they will be clearer on the protocol when a serious injury has occurred as a result of dangerous play that could have been avoided.


About Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning has been involved in rugby all of his life as a player, coach and journalist. He has been rugby correspondent on the Sunday Independent since 1996, and has been reporting on the game since the mid 1980s when he stopped playing with Clontarf. In 2007 his book From There to Here, a definitive account of Ireland’s transition from amateur to professional rugby, was published to critical acclaim.
This entry was posted in Brendan Fanning, Concussion, Heineken Cup, IRB, IRFU, Irish Rugby, Leinster Rugby, Munster, Munster Rugby, Refereeing, Rugby Opinion, Sports Comment and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Flawed system allows O’Connell to walk

  1. Cop on to yourself you pompous windbag. Never read such a load of piffle in my life.

  2. Tom says:

    https://brendanfanningrugby.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/healy-not-looking-at-lengthy-sentence/ Of course when Healy tries to break Coles’ leg it’s just part of the game, only clearing out a ruck. Try commentating with some objectivity in future you clown.

    • Not Tom says:

      It’s a shame people have to resort to name calling to make their non-point. Equating a stamp on the leg with a full force kick in the head is silly in the extreme.

      There’s a difference between saying someone should be banned, and saying that they have a case to answer. If you can’t see that, I’d suggest you try and remove the blinkers.

      • Tom says:

        Blinkers eh? I’m not the one casting aspersions on the citing commissioner “the fact that it was O’Connell’s shin that made contact there confirmed that the whole thing was accidental.” So what, because it was O’ Connell it was overlooked. BS. It was reckless and nothing more, unlike Healys stamp which was intentional but because it didn’t do much damage that’s ok. “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.” Yeah, I’m the one with blinkers.

  3. Alpy says:

    If POC picked Dave Kearney up to dump him backwards, but Kearney moved through the horizontal and POC unable to support his weight dropped him on his head in the same position on the pitch, the touch judge and Owens would have no re-course but to red card him. That would not be an intentional act, nor would it be premeditated or malicious. It would be careless as is the kick to the head. Did Sam Warburton set out to spear a French player in the RWC? For the citing commissioner to say that there is no sanction for “carelessness” is nonsense. Very few actions that are cited are totally malicious, many are dangerous and careless and the player is cited due to their lack to due care for the safety of the opponent.

  4. To start, I’m a Leinster fan going back to the days of Slats and Ollie Campbell. I’ve looked at the replay a good few times now and there seems to be something in it, which has gotten very little attention. When Kearney hits the ground practically all the players around him stop what they’re doing, thinking he’s winded or maybe injured. He then proceeds to try and feed the ball to the Leinster players behind him with his right arm. On seeing this, and presuming correctly, that play is still continuing – which I guess it was -, Paulie pounces. Sure, it was reckless and dangerous, but he made a split second decision to try and prevent Leinster retaining posession, which didn’t work out too well. It might be better in such situations to have a citing official from a neutral country, ‘cos there was no way any Paddy’s gonna cite Paulie with the Clermont match in the offing. Are you mad? Personally, the professional foul stuff – e.g. Downey taking out BO’D for the Jones try – annoys me more, than PO’C misjudged kick past/at Kearney’s head.

    • Brian says:

      To say that Healy’s I tentional stamp on a players leg is not as bad as at worse an accidental contact with a player while trying to legitimately kick a ball is crazy. One word intent.
      As for the reffing of the scenically stuff, have another look at the Leinster Northampton match and see how much blocking Leinster did in that game, they practically wrote the playbook. Have a look at cullen’s involvement in the injury to O’Callaghan and tell me that wasn’t reckless.
      The reporting of this has been biased from all sides and to use the word of the day, reckless. It saddens me that in the aftermath of such a game and more importantly after the decision of the citing commissioner, we continue to focus on it rather than the great rugby match that was played.

  5. Andrew says:

    The one thing I found out about the incident is that POC is left footed.
    Which is unfortunate as it may not have been as serious if he had used his right foot as his right shin would have been further away from Dave Kearneys head.

  6. Sam. says:

    All the oversenstive, pillock elements of Munster fandom (every province has its cells) are out in force lately.
    The simple truth is if a player tips another over the horizontal in a tackle, accident or not, they recklessly endanger that player and have a case to answer to. If a player uses no arms in a tackle and concusses another, intentional or not, they have a case to answer to. Why should foolishly kicking at a ball under a prostrate player’s head be any different? Kearney was concussed as a result, can the sort of play that causes that be permitted? Be deemed harmless? No, of course not.
    This was a ridiculous decision that reeks of the old boys letting POC off the hook completely.

    I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will because some fans can get apoplectic saying “you just hate him cuz he’s from Munster!”, I’m a massive fan of O’Connell and would love to see him with the Lions, he had a case to answer though.

  7. B says:

    The media and many munster fans have tried to claim that anyone thinking POC should have been cited are saying he’s a dirty player. Very few if any fans think he did it on purpose. However if he had hit Kearney’s hand and broken a wrist or fingers would that have been cited? Why was he kicking the ball in the first place, it certainly wasn’t going to win his team possession as Leinster players were within a step or two of Kearney. The bottom line is that he was reckless which is case in itself for a citing if not a ban. If this had not happened in an inter-pro he would have been cited.

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