Were I to be sarcastic, then the current English team could be described as the best thing that ever happened to someone writing about rugby discipline. Hartley, Armitage, Cueto, Lawes - it's the gift that keeps on giving. And now, generous soul that he is, Delon Armitage has got himself in trouble again.
He's been banned for one game for a shoulder-charge into the head of Scotland's Chris Paterson in England's narrow win over the Scots last Saturday.
Many English fans and pundits consider this rough justice; many others consider he got off lightly.
Two things arise from this; first, I mentioned a while back about the IRB's directive about high tackles, which finally indicated to Citing Commissioners that such tackles would suffice for a red card for the purposes of citing hearings. Between Todd Clever, and this, the Citing Commissioners have been following through on this. It's worth noting that Armitage pleaded guilty. The IRB is to be commended on that; they took a position, made it clear, followed through on it, consistently, and as a result there is now some certainty in that part of the disciplinary process. I commended it at the time as being the way to avoid problems with challenges to consistency; and it looks like it's working in giving that consistency. It's an example to be noted and followed.
What isn't consistent is how someone who has already been suspendeded for a total of eleven weeks this year - better than one week in four in 2011 - can be given less than the minimum sentence prescribed in Regulation 17 when his disciplinary record is so clearly up for debate; and especially when at his last citing hearing, the sentence was increased because of that poor record.
It would appear my fears about minimum bans not being minimum were right; to counter-balance consistency and certainty in one area of the disciplinary system, this clear-cut area has now been thrown into question. Swings and roundabouts.
I would love to go into the details of the judgements; but I can't, for the simple reason that the IRB has not published any of the decisions in the three citing results (Armitage, Estabanez of France and Gugava of Georgia) announced today. In that regard, the IRB have slipped back into a regrettable old habit, one that I hope is only temporary and to be cured by the release of those decisions as soon as possible.
Update; and I'm happy to say they now have the decision up (it may be time lag between getting the news out, and uploading the judgement, which is fair enough). And it's interesting that Armitage's record was considered an aggravating factor at his last disciplinary hearing is not mentioned; and that Michael Smith QC at 3.3 expressly asked the hearing to rely on a recent decision to go below the minimum where there were some, but not all, mitigating factors. That's the Tsnobiladze case; it is already being used as a precedent.
And what is truly astounding is that, at 3.4, the Judicial Officer found that he only had the power to go below the minimum in certain, very limited circumstances; that this was not such a case; and then proceeded to go below the minimum anyway and give him only one week.
That is, bluntly, farcical. To find that it's a case where the regulations require that the minimum sentence be imposed, and then impose less than it, is to ignore those rules. The rules disciplinary system are being openly flouted by those charged with imposing them.