The longer this one has gone on since the Ireland-Wales game, the more it's become like eating an elephant. There it is, plonked down on the plate in front of you, as vast as it is unappetising. It's all fine and dandy saying you do it one bite at a time; but where the hell do you even start?
There's the tackles, then the citing, then the decision, then the comments on the decision, then the comments on the comments on the decision... A huge, grey, indigestible lump, steaming gently in front of you.
To quote one Welsh fan (Dylan Thomas): to begin at the beginning. What has happened thus far is as follows: about sixty five minutes into the Ireland-Wales game, Welsh second row Bradley Davies took umbrage at Irish substitute second row Donncha Ryan's counter-rucking. After the ball was cleared from the ruck, Davies - off the ball - picked Ryan up, inverted him, and dropped him on his neck. You can see it HERE; it's about as clear-cut a red card as one could wish. Referee Wayne Barnes didn't see it, but Assistant Referee (touch-judge, to you and me) Dave Pearson did, and flagged it. Barnes told Pearson he hadn't seen it, asked what happened and asked for a recommendation; at which stage, for some reason, Pearson recommended not a red, but a yellow card. At that point, Wales were behind by a point; Ireland then went scored a try.
Wales got back to within a point from another try; then Davies came back on. In the last two minutes, they put together some great phases in which Davies was heavily involved, taking it from 22 to 22. Then Irish blindside, Stephen Ferris tackled Welsh second row Ian Evans. You can see it HERE (for the sake of comparison, I've gone with one showing both incidents); Ferris lifts him past horizontal, and Evans comes down upper-body first. Barnes awarded a penalty, gave Ferris a yellow card, Wales kicked the penalty, and won by two points.
There was near-universal agreement afterwards (including, to their credit, from the Welsh coaching team) that Davies should have been sent off. Citing Commissioner Achille Reali cited both Ferris and Davies. Their cases were heard on the Wednesday of last week (the 8th of February).
Under the memo on tip-tackling, and the cases such as Shingler and the others that I've been looking at here over the past few months, there was no question that Davies was a straight red card under, at best, the second of the three categories of this offence under that memo - and a top-level one for sanction, too, given the aggravating circumstances. Shingler, which you can read HERE, is the ERC disciplinary system at the top of its game; an appellate decision analysing what it stresses are two perfectly well-argued approaches in Brits and Shingler, and deciding which one is to be preferred as better reflecting the policy. No-one reading it - including the manner in which it was treated as being of importance for the game, with no order for costs being made - could fail to understand the reasoning, or fail to approve of the clarity and seriousness which which a panel of very, very heavy-hitting judges came to their decision. It would be a credit to most appellate courts, and makes it clear beyond doubt.
Of more interest was Ferris. Here, the elements of the offence under Law 10 (4) (j) - lifting the feet off the ground (and it was both feet - you can see that HERE, and from 3:13 on the video above), bringing beyond horizontal (although that's not part of the test: on which more in part 2) and the upper body of the tackled player making contact first were all present. The question was, was it a category two or a category three offence? If category three, then a penalty (and possibly a yellow card) was sufficient punishment. However, no-one really knows where category two - red card - stops and category three - penalty/yellow card - starts. So, a proper, published decision on this would give final clarity to the whole area, and we would all have been able to say: this is red, this yellow, this is okay.
So, one would have thought that, come last Thursday, building on the work done at the RWC and by the ERC, we'd have final clarity on the law in this area.
So much for wild optimism. Because, while Davies was given seven weeks (light, in my opinion, but not outrageously so, given the tendency in international rugby to give much lighter bans), Ferris' case was dismissed. That would have been fine - after all, one needs a red card offence for a citing to be upheld, and if it's not, the Committee must uphold the on-pitch decision of the referee. The problem was, they appear to have gone further and said that it wasn't even a penalty. Irish manager, Michael Kearney, who was in the hearing reported this directly to the press, and it has not been denied by anyone that he was accurate when he said this.
Two days later, the IRB and 6 Nations decided to get stuck into the "not a penalty" issue and came out and said - in the perfect response for this pantomime - "Oh, yes, it was". Significantly, it was the IRB referee assessors who said this, NOT the Committee who heard the case (although you'd want to be reading that carefully to notice it). I'll deal later with the issue of publicly disagreeing with the findings of a citing hearing. And, yesterday, we had Gerry Thornley in the Irish Times quoting the decision, where the Committee appear to have been introducing considerations about angles and claims that one foot was on the ground all the time in a way that would make one want a protractors to work out.
So, right now, instead of clarity, we have complete and utter confusion, with the IRB, Six Nations, referees and Disciplinary Committee all disagreeing amongst themselves. And that's about as much as I can choke down right now before it provokes indigestion, so I'll return to it tomorrow.