Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Harpin' Points 11 - Stamping, Alternate Jerseys & Best's backups

Every Wednesday we widen our focus beyond Leinster & Ireland rugby matches, offering views on broader rugby topics and themes


In my writeup of Leinster's win in Galway last weekend I gave my thoughts on the red card awarded to Connacht's reserve prop Dominic Robertson McCoy for his stamp on Josh van der Flier...
The word is 'reckless'...he DID mean to stamp, he DID mean for it to connect with an opponent; he just wasn't looking where he was doing it.
My point was met with some resistance from readers, which is great in itself; this site isn't here for me to say "this is what I think and that's final", it's to start a discussion.  So I'll use this first Harpin Point to expand on my argument.

Just to provide a starting point for the spectrum of opinion, here's a quote from a tweet by a Connacht fan.  Let me be clear.  This is ONE Connacht fan.  I'm not doing that thing where I try to suggest his view reflects those of the majority.  I'm merely trying to show one of the extremes from the argument.
"worst reffing match I've ever seen. Lacey is a fuckwit. So one sided. His refusal to penalise Leinster in part led to the red. Though that is inexcusable. Lacey has ruined this game. Ragin."
So even though the stamp was 'inexcusable', it was born from frustration at the ref because he refused to penalise Leinster - which some might say is actually an excuse.  Even though he did penalise us 10 times, by the way? I said, that is one extreme and I'm pretty sure it's a tiny minority view.  Now to go the other way, and at the other end there's the opinion that Robertson-McCoy fully intended to stamp on van der Flier's head.  For me, we need to distinguish between "A deliberate stamp to the head" and "a deliberate stamp that connected with the head" because that's a crucial distinction.

I can't go with the former wording for several reasons, but first let's look at the supposed 'factual' ones.  Top of the list among these is that he 'looked down' before he stamped.  Apparently that's case closed?  Absolutely not.  

For one thing, does 'looking down' mean you have a perfect view of everything below you?  No.  One camera angle suggests that even though he was looking down, it wasn't directly at JVDF's head - what he was trying to do was free his foot from the ruck and while it was clearly an illegal stamp that he carried out after his foot was free, I really don't think you can prove beyond reasonable doubt that he was aiming for where he connected.

While we're talking about doubt, I think players in general should get the benefit of it when we look at these matters.  As partisan fans in the heat of the moment it's natural to assume the worst intentions, but when you get into the area of making actual disciplinary decisions, you absolutely cannot.

Simply put...if it can be proven at a hearing that the player intentionally brought his studs raining down on van der Flier's head, then I don't care what the 'recommended guidelines' are for sanctions...he should be not only banned for life, he should also be liable for criminal charges.

But let's be that really going to happen when he faces the disciplinary panel via video conference, possibly as this post is being published?  Well I don't think so anyway.

The sanction comes under Law 9.12 — 

A player must not physically or verbally abuse anyone. Physical abuse includes, but is not limited to, biting, punching, contact with the eye or eye area, striking with any part of the arm (including stiff-arm tackles), shoulder, head or knee(s), stamping, trampling, tripping or kicking.
And when it comes to imposing the ban, they will need to look at Regulation 17.19.2 :

Disciplinary Committees or Judicial Officers shall undertake an assessment of the seriousness of the Player’s conduct that constitutes the offending and categorise that conduct as being at the lower end, mid range or top end of the scale of seriousness in order to identify the appropriate entry point for consideration of a particular incident(s) of Foul Play where such incident(s) is expressly covered in Appendix 1. The assessment of the seriousness of the Player’s conduct shall be determined by reference to the following features:
(a)     whether the offending was intentional or deliberate;
(b)     whether the offending was reckless, that is the Player knew (or  should have known) there was a risk of committing an act of Foul Play
...and that list goes all the way down to the letter (m), you can check them our here if you're interested, and the regulation goes on to list a host of 'mitigating factors' which is where I reckon the powers that be will be able to trawl for long enough to find a way out from imposing the maximum sanction. 

So to summarise, my view is yes, it was red, yes, it was a horrible act that deserves a lengthy ban but no, I don't personally believe his intention was to connect with the head but if it was, he should never play again.   We'll see whether or not the commissioners agree.

UPDATE 6:20pm - He got 6 weeks see the full decision here.


This Harpin Point is all about my favourite Irish hookers!!!  

Hang on, that doesn't look right...let me try again.

Now it's time to discuss the quality and consistency of our number twos!!!  

Ew...that's worse.  

OK that's enough innuendo (for now...), let's get on with the subject at part 2 of my weekly look at Irish RWC2019 hopefuls position by position the question is...who gets to back up Rory Best at RWC2019?

He is our captain, and rightly so, because he leads by example, he's good at his role, and he is good at fighting his side's corner with the ref.  So whether or not other options might be better at certain aspects, there can be no doubt that when Rory is fit, he starts.

Next in line, quite clearly, is Sean Cronin.  The odd lineout mishap might be a strike against him, but when you factor in all his positives he would still walk into most starting lineups in Europe right now.  Top of his skill set has to be the powerful line-running.  In the brief period between BOD's retirement and Garry Ringrose's ascension when we Leinster fans were scratching our heads over who could take his place at 13, 'Nugget' was a serious suggestion and it's true, there's a definite Bastereaud-ness to his carries.  But he's doing just fine at hooker for now.

So after those two, we're down to the likes of Rob Herring, Niall Scannell and James Tracy.  I suppose many would expect me to go fro Tracy from the three but in actual fact the other two have taken on important leadership roles with their provinces so I think I'd be more inclined to go for them, with Scannell possibly getting the nod for the time being.

While we're on the subject of hookers it's a good time to look at the whole issue of lineout darts.  We're all agreed that when there's a SNAFU at the setpiece it isn't always the fault of the thrower?  It's all down to a complex choreography that Riverdance performers might struggle to learn...these days it's not just the jumper and lifters that are involved but pretty much everyone is meant to act as a decoy as well so if one little part goes wrong it can bring the whole thing down.

Plus there's the responsibility of the lineout caller to make sure the chosen play fits the actual situation.  I don't know how many times I've seen teams go for the most complicated move when their team badly needed guaranteed possession above all else.  All of that said, it is the hooker who gets the ball rolling flying so it's crucial that they're accurate.  

When it comes to scrums, the actual 'hooking' from whence the name of the position comes is a dying art form in the modern game, given that straight put-ins are rarely policed.  However I have seen Rory Best on several occasions able to 'rescue' situations where the opposition seem to have a shove on and the ball was getting away from him.  Given you're bent over with your arms wrapped around two props, that's quite the under-appreciated skill in the game.


Time for more 'jersey talk'...Canterbury released the new set of Ireland gear for the 2018/19 season, and included in the range was a blue 'alternate jersey' which apparently will be worn in November for the visit of the USA to the Aviva.

As always there's much cynicism about, not all that different to any other jersey release.  Best I've heard was along the lines of 'well it might as well be blue since Joe only picks Leinster players' blah blah.  Some Leinster fans do seem to like it, not because it's blue, but because it's Canterbury not Adidas.

I'm not really that pushed one way or the other...though I always felt that white should be the one and only 'alternate' colour for Ireland and we should stick with variations on the design rather than the colour.  Last season's 'asphalt' didn't seem to go down well either.

But most of all, I really believe there should be a three-year cap on the changing of jerseys both at provincial and test levels.  Fans are asked to spend enough as it is, and of course we all know there's going to be yet another new design to be promoted next summer as the World Cup draws near.  I love the gear itself and I've been guilty for buying more designs over the years than most, but the changes are coming too quickly now for my liking.


Remember when the English were screaming for changes to the Heineken Cup?  I don't think it was a coincidence that it was around the time Irish provinces won five titles in seven years.  It's because they get to rest their players, they said.  It's because they can play a more expansive game in the Celtic League due to no fear of relegation, they said.

Seen much of the Premiership this season?  Tries are flying in all over the place.  The old 'bosh it up the middle' mantra seems to have been consigned to history.  And last Saturday, one of Leinster's European opponents Bath made as many as 13 changes for their trip to face the champions Saracens...and while they did manage to put 27 points on the board, they couldn't stop their hosts posting a 'fifty-burger' down the other end, and many matches seem to go beyond the combined-60-point mark.

Now don't get me wrong, I've been enjoying the bit of Premiership action I have seen so far, I just find it hard to believe that after all their complaining which led to drastic changes to the European competition, they seem to have gone full circle themselves and said "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em".


I came very, very, close to naming this post "Hookers & Hooters" and I probably should have for the laugh, but I chickened out at the last minute.  Might draw the wrong kind of attention for this kind of post!!!

Anyway, this final Harpin Point of the week is about an incident which happened at the end of last weekend's Edinburgh v Benetton match.

Before I make my main point, much has already been written about Nigel Owens' intervention in the HIA decision by the Benetton medical team and I applaud him for that same as everyone else has done, but this point is about something different.

It was a close match, with Embra probably lucky to edge out their opponents by a point, but that narrowest of narrow margins is what made the last act of the match so important. 

As the clock read 79:29, Edinburgh were awarded a scrum penalty at their own 22.  Outhalf Simon Hickey used every trick in the book to let the clock tick past the 80 minute mark before he took a tap, kicked it to touch, and hoping that would mean the match was over.

Personally I think Nigel missed a trick in that he could have told the Edinburgh players that the lineout would be taken no matter what, but instead he let them stall so when the ball went out of play, he had to ask the TMO to check whether or not the 80 minutes was up when the kick was taken.

Well here's a suggestion...what about a siren that can be heard around the stadium when the clock hits 40 and 80 then everyone knows where they stand!!!  Isn't that a BRILLIANT idea???  I came up with it all by myself!!!!  Honestly - they don't do that ANYWHERE in the world!!!  

OK before it's the police sirens that are blaring as they come to take me away, of course that last bit is a lie.  They do the hooter thing in the southern hemisphere and it seems to work just fine.  All I'm asking is that if the only reason we don't do something similar in Europe is that we're stubborn not to copy somebody else, then that's completely ridiculous.  Hopefully they either have a better eason or plan to introduce it soon because it makes sense.

That's all for this week's Harpin Points.  Tomorrow we plan to have our popular 'telly post', then on Friday there's with the Leinster team announcement and match preview.  Stay tuned!  JLP


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019