Chop Their Hands Off!

Last week saw two shameful cop outs by the disciplinary authorities in Blighty – firstly Dylan Hartley got 8 weeks for biting Fez, then Calum Clark got 32 weeks for his appalling breaking hyperextension of Rob Hawkins’ elbow. Both were below the lowest estimate of most pundits, and both are far too short, particularly in Clark’s case.

Hartley was cited for biting the finger of Fez, which carries a minimum sentence of 12 weeks and a maximum of 4 years. Hartley got the minimum, then got 4 weeks knocked off for his past record. The same record that involved a 6 month ban for gouging in 2007. We know that was 5 years ago and Hartley has grown up a little, but if you gouge a fellow professional’s eye, that is something that, in our view, you should carry around forever – like the criminal record you would get if you did it off the rugby pitch. Additionally, and amazingly, the committee thought it appropriate and relevant to take Graham Rowntree’s confession that Hartley might soon be England captain into account – so much for balance.

[Aside: The practise of knocking a few weeks off a players ban for their good behaviour / past record / fearsome QC is a recipe for booting the can away – plus, like benchmarking, it only works one way; Felon Armitage gets suspended all the time and his record never appears to count against him]

Conveniently, the English starting hooker will be available for their tour to South Africa – Hartley will miss 3 regular season games with the Saints, and probably a play off semi final, and get to put his feet up after a tough year then hop on a plane for Cape Town – it would almost make you want to chomp on someone’s finger!

Moving on from bad to terrible, what Calum Clark did to Rob Hawkins was the worst thing we have ever seen on the sports field – Clark claimed he did not intend to injure Hawkins, but that is frankly laughable – what did he think was going to happen when he did what he did? He broke a fellow professional’s arm and has put his career in jeopardy. If he replicated his actions 10 metres away in the stand at Sixways, he would be doing 2 to 3 years at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Yet the beaks in charge deemed the offence worthy of 32 weeks, a ban which includes the summer, so is effectively half that. He will miss 3 league games for Saints, a potential play-off, about 7 rounds of early-season rugby next year, 2 HEC games and a chance to tour in June. All told, its 13 games of rugby. And he, too, will be back just in time for some England games – in November, if they choose to select him.

The Clark video is here, but (genuinely) look away now if you have the squeams:

The Man has missed a chance to send a real message clamping down on the type of stuff that should be eliminated from the sport for good – they have been letting dirty players away with this stuff ever since the book was thrown at Julien Dupuy and David Attoub for gouging (ironically) Fez in 2009 – Attoub got 70 weeks (higher because …. oh, yeah, he had done it before) and Dupuy 24, reduced to 23 on appeal. These seemingly draconian, but utterly merited, bans were themselves somewhat of a reaction to the puny 8 weeks Schalk Burger got for fiddling with Luke Fitzgerald’s cornea. Those who gouge, bite or intentionally injure a player should pay a very heavy price. Clark should be gone until the end of next season and Hartley until November.

Contrast this to recent happenings across the pond. The NFL has been investigating the New Orleans Saints (Superbowl winners in 2011) for running a “bounty” system where defensive players and their coaches contributed cash to a fund which paid out bonuses if opposition players happened to get injured on the field of play.

The sanctions for the coaches have just been announced, and the NFL has thrown the book at the Saints – the defensive coach has been banned from the sport indefinitely, the head coach for a year and 2 assistant coaches for 14 games in total (a season is 16 games). The penalties for the players have yet to be announced as the NFL Players Association is still conducting a parallel enquiry, but there are already calls for Jonathan Vilma, one of the main protagonists, to be banned for life. Vilma is a teak-tough linebacker who has been selected for the Pro Bowl (All Star game in effect) 3 times – think Bakkies.

Can you imagine any of the rugby authorities banning a big name for good for intentionally injuring someone? The NFL Commissioner is hell-bent on ridding the game of dirty play, and his stance is to be applauded, and should he held up as mirror to the wet blanket attitude over here.



  1. Comparing American Football sanctions isn’t particularly easy, while it’s true the NFL have gone to town on the Saints, a few years ago Brandon Spikes was banned for the first half of a game for eye gouging.

    But I guess that highlights the biggest issue, there should not be individual disciplinary panels with their own vested interests.

    The ERC have a track record of handing out the toughest sanctions. Their judgements in the Attoub/Dupuy cases should have set the benchmark for gouging. A year or so later Mark Cueto had a tiny ban and was available for the RWC. His was precisely the type of ban that caused outrage in the first place that led to an iRB directive asking disciplinary panels to come down hard on eye contact.

    The Pro12 used to allow the union of the cited player to hold their own disciplinary hearing. Not any more. While this is admirable it is, in hindsight, stupid. Now the Irish, Scots, Italian and Welsh unions must wait and fret on an independent disciplinary panel’s findings, while the English and French unions take care of their own. So much for altruism.

    The ERC should be in charge of all disciplinary hearings across Europe, regardless of the competition in which an offence took place.

    • @ ummm great points all round, and something i’d never really considered about the recent Pro12 switch (which I thought was necessary at the time as the previous one was farcical). Looking after one’s own appears to be the modus operandi at disciplinary level, and until that changes (i.e. never) your solution of the ERC or some supra-national body taking all disciplinary hearings looks to be most pertinent – for that very reason it’ll probably never happen.

  2. Paddy Logan

     /  April 2, 2012

    Interesting Paddy Wallace ‘joke’ in the poll. At the minute, he is having the last laugh as he is by some way the form centre in Ireland. His performance for Ulster last Fri was sumptuous and I am really looking forward to watching him against Munster next Sunday.

    As for the bans, as always the RFU bottles it completely. The summaries of the hearings are shameful – Clark apparently showed contrition. Really, who goes to these meetings and says he had it coming to him so I tried to pop his eye out of its socket? The only thing that can be said in Clark’s defence is that if anyone had it coming it was Hawkins. Not that he’ll miss the use of his arm when tackling!

    • @paddy you’re preaching to the converted paddy, We *completely* agree on Paddy Wallace – himself and Cave are looking in great nick – clearly not being subjected to Deccie is a good thing. Still, Munster in Thomond Park will be different from Aironi at home, but Ulster look to be significantly stronger at centre


  3. HB

     /  April 2, 2012

    Did you see Clark’s interaction with Dean Richards after the match? When Clark does get back he probably won’t get too much sleep the night before he plays Leicester again!

    The NFL is imposing these sanctions to watch its own back from law suits from former players who say that they weren’t protected properly. So while it appears admirable, and improving safety should be appluaded whatever the reasons for it are, the NFL has an interest that the Unions haven’t considered.

    Having had someone try and gouge me at Under 15s it is a brutal experience. Anyone caught doing it where it is absolutely clear that they intended to do it (see Mr Burger) should be banned for life. Your’re essentially trying to end the other players career and ruin their life and the lives of their families. By giving short bans all they are doing is saying that you get a slap on the wrist and its worth risking it if you think it will give you an advantage.

    The clubs themselves need to start addressing this. If Cardiff will dump Henson for his stupid actions surely these acts should be treated more seriously. I know it won’t happen but in a perfect world….

  4. elnorgio

     /  April 3, 2012

    I reckon the two are a little different. Clark’s a young fella, although he’s got previous with the England age-group when he lost it and laid a guy out. I can understand why they’ve been lenient, but I think they’re wrong. Whether it was pre-meditated or red-mist, he should be banned for a year, minimum. Completely out of order.

    As to Hartley, I agree he definitely has previous. I suspect he got a degree of leniency for two reasons: one, it wasn’t caught on camera and two, what was Fez’s finger doing in Hartley’s mouth in the first place? I agree, though, that he should have got longer.

  5. Thanks for commenting elnorgio and HB – consensus certainly seems to be that both should have got longer. elnorgio, I haven’t read the documnt of the hearing myself but apparently it is/was available to read. I read on some forum or other, that very question of what Fez’s fingers were doing was prominent in the hearing and he was effectively on trial himself over the incident. Perhaps someone who has read it can offer a bit more detail?


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