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.