Are disciplinary records just decoration?

Posted: January 11, 2015 in Disciplinary Action

The disciplinary records of some players are cleaner than others. A common misconception would be that this is based on players’ positions, that attritional forward play means that anger and foul play come to the fore. For example, Brian O’Driscoll, a man with well over a 100 international tests, had only two yellow cards on his disciplinary record. Surely a forward must have more? False. Richie McCaw’s record is a mirror image. A lot of other forwards have cleaner records than this again. Some players seem intent to bring the sport into disripute as often as possible, be it on or off the field, and intent is a word I used for a reason. To say these players do it accidentally would imply that they have learned from previous mistakes and do not desire a further suspension.

A few words could be used to describe Dylan Hartley as a player so far in his career: tough; attritional; passionate; loyal. A word I would use is, simply, dirty. Hartley is again serving a suspension for an act of foul play during a match-this time it’s a suspension for the use of his elbow against Matt Smith’s face, a cynical act which happened during the game between the Northampton Saints and Leicester Tigers before Christmas. In fairness, maybe Smith’s face had provoked his elbow earlier in the game-who knows? But a suspension is being served for it none the less.

What will Hartley do during his time off, one would wonder? Luckily enough, he is sure to have a system in place at this stage. Being suspended is nothing new to the New Zealand born hooker. His previous infractions include biting, punching, eye-gouging, and that small incident when he called Wayne Barnes a “f***ing cheat”. The Barnes incident cost him a Lions tour, but clearly he does not seem to learn. Suspension seems to come second nature to the Kiwi, and he has served 53 weeks suspension since April 2007.

The fact that his latest suspension leaves him available for the upcoming Six Nations is an absolute joke. He should at least miss England’s opener against Wales, which would show the RFU are taking a stance on Hartley’s tantrums. Or, as Neil Francis said in his latest column, if he cannot prove that he can play the game correctly and safely, he should not be allowed to play. Lancaster is a man who brought England out of its post-2011 RWC funk and is hardly the type of man to allow a man like Hartley straight back into the squad. Surely a bit of a make-over wouldn’t go amiss, much like Lancaster did with Danny Care. The reason I say Lancaster, is because Mallinder, Hartley’s club coach, did not think Hartley’s latest infraction (the elbow) was malicious. Hopefully Lancaster thinks otherwise, or I will quickly lose faith in coaches within the England set-up.

But it would be unfair to throw Hartley alone under the bus. Other players are just as guilty when it comes to enjoying suspension holidays throughout the season. Not many, mind you, but there are others, such as Delon Armitage.

The Toulon fullback is no stranger to controversy. His previous includes late hits, punching, and, the worst of them in my opinion, taunting a Clermont Auvergne player as he ran in a try in the 2013 Heineken Cup final win in Dublin. He also served an eight week suspension for using threatening and abusive behaviour towards an anti-doping officer in 2011.

Armitage is currently serving another eight week suspension, this time for swearing at Leicester Tigers fans, some of them children. I don’t ever remember watching a game as a child and having players verbally abuse me because they lost. Armitage was handed a twelve week ban which was reduced to eight on appeal. The Committee stated they made a mistake in the appropriate sanction for the misconduct, but they also stated that Armitage was “a habitual offender with a despicable record”. But he is still cleared to play on 9th February.

This is where my problem lays. Granted, the fullback will miss Toulon’s Champions Cup games within that period, Ulster and Scarletts respectively (he cannot be selected for England in the upcoming Six Nations as he plays in France, so missing England’s opener won’t affect him). He will, however, return for the knockout stages of the Champions Cup and the business end of the Top 14. Not to mention the rugby he won’t miss at all during the 6 Nations break.

Why not give him the full 12 weeks. The committee are aware of his previous. They stated he is a “habitual offender”, which means he will more than likely offend again. Like the suspension handed to Hartley, the RFU could have and should have given a longer ban to Armitage to show him his unprofessional strops are not acceptable, especially for just losing a game. Neither are learning anything from previous suspensions, so I think a system should be put in place for these types of players. If they are not willing to improve their behaviour on the pitch (or off it in Armitage’s case) they should be given less and less time on it.

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