Owen Doyle: World Rugby throws soft paperback at Tomas Lavanini

Rassie Erasmus to make documentary appearance while URC still has officiating hole

As we await what the first rounds of European rugby will bring, it’s worth having a closer look at a few of the other recent happenings in rugby union.

Firstly, the Tomas Lavanini affair, which was not nearly such an enjoyable movie as the wonderful 'Thomas Crown'.

We all remember only too well the Argentine's assault on Cian Healy in the recent international at the Aviva. A bone-crunching shoulder hit into the side of Healy's face, the effect of which was mitigated only by the fact that the Irishman could, so to speak, 'roll with the punch'.

It was a shocking incident. Everybody watched, appalled, at the blow. Referee Matt Carley dealt very well with things, red card calmly delivered, and then it became the responsibility of World Rugby to deal appropriately with things. Here we go.


All good rugby people were waiting for the book to be hurled at Lavanini , but no, World Rugby’s judicial panel have found mitigation of their own, and have thrown nothing more than a soft, oft-used paperback in the direction of the player, coming up with a paltry five-weeks suspension.

It’s very important to be absolutely clear as to how they managed to arrive at this decision.

First of all, there are three categories of offence, simply put these are ‘high’ end, ‘mid’ end, and ‘low’ end. So, where a judicial panel start has a major and serious bearing on where they go next.

Well, it’s nearly impossible to believe that their chosen starting point in this case was mid-range, which carries an entry point of six-weeks suspension. It’s impossible to understand this rationale, and very doubtful if that would have been the same conclusion if Healy had been carried off comatose, or much worse. Is that what really has to happen before the wigs on the bench sit up and recognise very dangerous foul play for what it is? The future safety of the game depends on a more rigorous approach. Let’s continue.

Having decided on a six-week sanction, these wise people then chose to mitigate the sentence by two weeks for Lavanini ’s good behaviour, apology and remorse. And this remorse was so profound that the player actually argued the toss, accepting the foul play charge, but stating that he did not consider it a red card offence. But still, what a good chap he was at the hearing – you could not make it up.

Furthermore, the written judgment states that the player is “taking active steps to ensure that his on field aggression is controlled”. I have no idea what that means, maybe anger management classes? But the judicial panel considered this in his favour.

And what of the player’s previous red cards, two at Test level, giving him plenty of time to deal with his uncontrolled aggression before he hit Healy. Here, their lordships really toughened up, and, showing their mettle – probably after much deliberation – decided to add all of one week for his previous convictions, this now being the third, and that’s the story of how they arrived at the five weeks handed down. This last week can, of course, be cancelled, provided Lavanini undergoes tackling tutorials, otherwise known as the grandiosely termed Coaching Intervention Programme.

If these good men had started where they should have, at the ‘high’ end of things, which has an entry point 12 weeks, their follow-on rationale would have resulted in something really, really meaningful – eight or 10 weeks.

And that might well have given others pause for much needed thought. Make of it all what you will, I know where I stand.

Just when we thought we had our complete fill of Rassie Erasmus, we learn that he is to take part in a documentary, ostensibly to give his side of the story; thought he’d done that, but obviously, if these reports are correct, then he himself thinks he has more to say. I wonder how careful he needs to be; World Rugby is bound to take a very close look at things. Maybe, or maybe not, there are more than a fistful of dollars in the project which, if so, would be very appealing.

What would appeal a lot more, however, is if, at this point, Erasmus would just let things go. He is doing the game no favours whatsoever, and this affair continues to damage officiating.

All sports were represented at the recent Oireachtas Committee hearing which heard submissions in relation to abuse of match officials, and this is the sort of damage that can be caused by those at the top of any sport initiating or joining in the public condemnation of match officials.

There are robust systems in place in rugby to make proper constructive complaints, and this exists at all levels of competition. Mind you, there is still no referee manager yet appointed for this season to the URC, and that is a hole which badly needs to be filled; it’s been far too long, but it’s understood that an announcement is on the way.

I am not sure what happens in the other sports but the rugby system works well, when used properly, and referees are held to account for their performances. But, and there are valid arguments as to whether the level of accountability is enough. It’s all very well to accept the criticism, apologise, and then move on. But, is moving on enough?

Sympathy must be given to coaches and teams who use the proper channels, get these apologies, but do not see the referee suffer in any way. Poor player performances result in getting dropped, missing a couple of matches, utilising the time off to revisit their game plan, and coming back better. There is no good reason why referees should be any different.