THERE WAS SOMETHING QUITE TROUBLING that flashed up in early May. A problem that rugby will have to look at and try to fix.
That problem occurred when the Crusaders played the Brumbies in Canberra. Early in the game, Israel Dagg, who was making his second appearance of the season after major surgery last year, was taken hard across the chin by Brumbies opposite Chance Peni.
It was an ugly challenge that was more reckless than deliberate and it left Dagg not only concussed, but with more damage to his knee. Such was the impact that he buckled under himself and his knee gave way.
It was a cruel blow to the veteran outside back having worked so hard to get back to full fitness. But the worrying bit was still to come.
Referee Jaco Peyper, on the advice of his TMO and other officials, was persuaded to award just a yellow card.
That was it – Peni would have just 10 minutes in the sinbin while Dagg would face an uncertain future about how long he would be out for. Just 10 minutes for a nasty, head-high challenge that was lucky it didn’t break Dagg’s jaw.
The story gets worse. Later in the second half, Scott Barrett received that same punishment of 10 minutes in the bin for a technical infringement where he was deemed to have wrongly tried to bring down a maul.
Barrett got his timing wrong. Maybe it was deliberate, maybe not but no one was hurt and he could mount a case to say he legitimately thought he was okay doing what he was doing.
But Peyper said off to the bin for 10 please as he did a few minutes later when Ryan Crotty was offside. To be fair to Peyper he had repeatedly warned the Crusaders to get back and Crotty didn’t.
It was a yellow card offence and no one was complaining about that. It’s just it seemed all a bit out of whack that a physical assault to the head that ended in serious injury was deemed to be on the same scale as a technical infringement and a deliberate offside?
Please. This can’t be the way rugby wants to go? There has to, surely, be a distinction made between cynical play and dangerous play?
The lines can’t be so blurred that a swinging arm to the chops is being weighed up against a dopey forward not really getting out of the way quickly enough?
To some extent the record was put straight when Peni was required to face a judicial hearing after the match which ruled his action had indeed met the red card threshold and he was subsequently banned for five weeks.
That put a little bit of justice back the way of the Crusaders and restored a little faith that rugby can differentiate between poor timing and out right violence.
But still, the Peni incident, does open the debate again on how serious rugby is about eliminating foul play that involves the head?
Is it time for the minimum sanctions to be higher? Is it time to say that if any challenge leaves another player concussed, the sanction starts at eight weeks? Or maybe even more.
Would that prove to be a better deterrent? Would being that punitive see a reduction or near elimination of all shots to the head?
Probably not but it might make a lot of people feel that the players are being better protected with that sort of stance than they currently are.
There was one other worrying development that same weekend that took place at Eden Park just a few hours earlier.
That was seeing the Blues lose to the Jaguares. Maybe five years ago the rest of the country loved seeing the Blues struggle as much as they were.
All that anti-Auckland sentiment had a home. But it has reached the point now where presumably no one feels anything other than pity and concern for the Blues.
It is the better part of 10 years now that they have been an inconsistent and weak team. They haven’t been taken seriously for an age and they don’t seem to be able to find any kind of answers to the many problems they have.
They are getting worse not better and it is apparent the region needs help. Something is incredibly wrong with the game in Auckland be it the coaching, player development, talent identification, the way the schools competition is set up, the traffic, house prices, the vast number of competitive sports available or the demographics and ethnic make-up of the population.
In truth, probably all of these things are contributing in some way to the demise of a once dominant rugby force and because the problem is complicated and multi-faceted, it is not going to be easy to fi x.
But it does need to be fixed and the Blues need help in doing so.
Gregor Paul, Editor