category: rugby news

Average JO must go

Dan Retief17/9/07

As put-downs go you would have to go some way to beat the slap in the face delivered to Rugby World Cup Judicial Officer Terry Willis – the Australian who decided on Schalk Burger’s four-match suspension.

Willis, who allegedly behaved arrogantly in Burger’s hearing and at one point sneered that he had been a No6 flank himself and knew for a fact that Burger had not been going for the ball, was literally told he did not know what he was talking about in the statement proclaiming the reduction, by half, of Burger’s banning.

The Appeal Committee comprised chairman Justice Wyn Williams, Bruce Squire QC and Judge Guillermo Tragant. They “determined that the Judicial Officer (Willis) had made an error in his first instance decision, in that he was wrong to find that the player was not at any time during the incident intending to win the ball.

“On the basis of the video evidence and the transcript of the initial JO (don’t you just love the abbreviation!) hearing the Appeal Committee decided that the player was attempting to win the ball for a significant part of the time involved. However, the Committee found that the player ultimately realised that he was not going to catch the ball and instinctively adjusted his approach to tackle the opposing player.

“The Committee concluded that the tackle was a dangerous tackle but noted that the arm of Mr. Burger was withdrawn following contact with the opposing player. The Committee decided the offence should be categorised as a lower level entry offence rather than a mid range offence.

“The entry point for such an offence is a two week (or two match) suspension. The Appeal Committee confirmed that there were no aggravating factors but considered that the player's previous disciplinary history should be taken into account.

“Therefore the Appeal Committee decided that the sanction imposed on the player should be two matches instead of four.”

The implications of this climb down are horrific; amounting to a concession that rugby’s disciplinary process is seriously flawed and open to human prejudice and official injustice and calling into question the competence of the Judicial Officer concerned.

As always players must wonder why errant officials are not subjected to the same punitive measures they are.

And who do we have to thank? Burger’s “reduction of sentence” came as a boon to the Boks, who’ll now have him back in the frame for their last pool match, but we should not lose from sight that SA Rugby were apparently hopelessly unprepared to deal with a judicial hearing.

Word has filtered out that the team’s management did not have a participation agreement with them and that other officials in France also were not in possession of this crucial document.

The process of defending a player in trouble with the law, as it were, was not defined, or even in place, and thus it was that calls went out for help from afar.

The distress flare went up via the player to his father Schalk snr. “Groot” Schalk in turn contacted Johann Rupert, who was in Geneva for Richemont’s AGM, and the business magnate called in the council of a friend and lawyer of his, Frederik Morkel, an expert in intellectual property rights, to find someone to handle the young Springbok’s defence.

Morkel in turn called on John MacLaughlin, a British-based QC, and Rob Hersov, who heads up an executive jet company, arranged to get the legal beagle to Paris.

Terry Willis’ alleged obdurate stance in the first hearing came as a blow but at the appeal MacLaughlin was able to successfully argue Burger’s plea for a reduction.

Naturally one is pleased about the outcome but I have to say that part of what is wrong with rugby’s disciplinary processes is the advent of high-powered lawyers – England, here as in Australia, have a QC as part of their management.

It is an unavoidable accoutrement of professionalism but something needs to be done to give rugby back to rugby people.

Le Journal de la Coupe de Monde

Les Misérables: You have to feel for the French. It was meant to be a time of sporting glory, but instead ‘Les Bleus’ lost Rugby World Cup’s opening game to Argentina and then the French footballers went and lost to Scotland in the European Cup. And one of the people being blamed is new president Nicolas Sarkozy because he caused too much pressure on the ‘Tricolores’ by influencing the reading, in the dressing room shortly before the game, of a letter written by a 17-year-old Resistance fighter killed by the Nazis. The letter, written by Guy Moquet before his execution is a favourite of the French president and was used to mark his investiture, crying when he heard it. The decision to read out the letter was made by Bernard Laporte, who has been made a junior sports minister, but now the Communists, the socialists and Guy Moquet’s biographer have expressed their outrage and the daily Le Parisien has questioned whether a letter beginning with the words “I’m going to die” could have “undermined the team’s morale.” Of course, if France had won it would have been considered an excellent idea!

The game played in heaven: Alan Adams, writing on the RWC website, provides proof of rugby’s celestial connections. A small chapel in southwest France is called Notre-Dame-du-Rugby. Its four stained glass windows are proof that rugby is a religion in the village of Larriviére-Saint-Savin. In one window, there is the figure of the Virgin Mary with a small boy in her arms and a rugby ball is in his hands. At their feet, players are jumping in a line-out. Behind the altar is a cabinet with photos of men who have died on the pitch or of injuries inflicted during games. A local priest, Michael Devert, restored the church in the 1960s, and it is attracting an increasing number of rugby pilgrims to light a candle and pray for success for their teams.

Ground Zero: That’s what England fans were calling the Stade de France on Friday night; many of them aptly dressed in white jerseys bearing the team sponsor’s logo O2! For South African fans who have in recent years endured the gloating on the tube back from Twickenham to London it was sweet music on the Metro to hear the Poms whining “I wanna go home, oh how I wanna go home.” England’s defeat was their first in Rugby World Cup action since going down to the Boks at the same venue in 1999. Friday night's 36-0 whipping threw up a couple of humiliating stats. England join Côte D'Ivoire (1995), Canada (1995), Spain (1999) and Namibia (2003) as only the fifth team in world cup history to finish a match scoreless. They are the only reigning champs to not trouble the score-keeper in cup history. The defeat was also England's heaviest at a World Cup. To add insult to injury the 79,700 present at Stade de France to witness England's loss edges the 79,312 who showed up at the same ground for the RWC 2007 opener between France and Argentina exactly one week before - making it a new record attendance for a rugby world cup match in Europe.

The times they are a’changing: The diesel engine keeps chugging along but the Catt has reached it’s 9th life. Mike Catt had a “mare” in the England No 10 and facing him across the park was Francois Steyn, a young man who would have been seven years old when Catt became Jonah Lomu’s road kill at Newlands in 1995. Os du Randt’s direct opponent Matt Stevens, yet another South African playing under an adopted flag, would have been 12 years old when Os anchored the Springbok scrum in the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final.

DAN RETIEF - | Monday, 17 September 2007 | Comment on this article

Dan Retief

The Jonny Factor 17/10/07
Time of the Galácticos 23/9/07
Average JO must go 17/9/07
Can history repeat itself? 6/9/07
Who will win the World Cup? 22/8/07
The spy in from the Reds 31/7/07
Painting it All Black 24/7/07

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