In 1823, William Webb Ellis first picked up the ball in his arms and ran with it. And for the next 156 years forwards have been trying to work out why. - Tasker Watkins VC, LJ.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Faan Rautenbach citing - part one.

Faan Rautenbach of London Irish has been cited for allegedly stamping on David Wallace of Munster in the game between the two teams at Thomond Park last Saturday in the last round of the Heineken Cup (HEC).

I won't comment on the incident - I was at the game, as it happens - but what's interesting is how the hearing is to be held.

It's to be held, today, by conference call. 

Now, in the case of Richie Rees of Cardiff Blues, who was suspended for contact with the eye area of Dylan Hartley of Northampton Saints, Hartley gave his evidence by telephone - and was cross-examined - rather than in person. This would appear to be a step further. And it raises some interesting (dread word) issues.

Disciplinary hearings in the competitions run by European Rugby Cup (ERC) are subject to the Regulations of the International Rugby Board (IRB) - in this case, Regulation 17 (it should be noted that if there are any changes to this that the ERC have put in place, they aren't in the general public domain). And that sets out how hearings are supposed to be carried out.

Now, it should be noted at the outset that the Disciplinary Officer at a hearing can adjust the procedure at the hearing from that set out in Regulation 17.13 - but he or she must attempt to keep it as near to that procedure as possible. 

As regards conference calls and that procedure, there seems to be a rather large gap.

David Wallace is in the Irish camp at the moment in the University of Limerick; Faan Rautenbach in London; the Disciplinary Officer in Wales. All are easily accessible one to the other by flights or, indeed, the M4 motorway. 

Under Regulation 17, the player cited is entitled - in fact, supposed - to attend in person (Regulation 17.9.8 (c)). It can be heard in absentia, but the Disciplinary Officer would seem to have to at least try to make sure the player is there (Regulation 17.12.3).

The Best Evidence rule applies - Regulation 17.13.6 - and that would seem to mean direct, viva voce evidence wherever humanly possible.

Moreover, under Regulation 17.18.4, hearings are supposed to be at the match venue, and appeals in the country where it originated. So, it should be in Thomond Park, or Limerick, or at least (because I doubt anyone would quibble) in the ERC offices in Dublin, as is very often the case.

The only references to appearing by conference call are seem to be in relation to the Citing Commissioner himself - 17.9.9 - and to referees in a sending off case (which doesn't apply here). There's no reference to witness attending by video conferencing, as there is for referees in a sending off case, or the Citing Commissioner. There's a reference to witnesses attending by direction, in person - Regulation 17.13.9. But the specific references to attending by video conference or conference call you have for others are not there in relation to witnesses.

On which basis, going on the text of Regulation 17, it looks very like witnesses and the accused have to attend in person under the Regulation.

Yet, in this case, as in the Rees/Hartley incident - they aren't. And while convenience is a fine thing, one would have to question why the Regulations are being ignored. 

And that, let it be noted, is assuming that the player cited has no complaints about this procedure. Because, as we shall see later, if the player does, it could leave the ERC open to challenge.

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