NZ Rugby World - - Gregor Paul -

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

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