THE omnishambles that is World Rugby’s disciplinary process was exposed for all to see today when Scottish forwards Jonny Gray and Ross Ford won their appeals against three-week bans, making a mockery of the decision to suspend them in the first place.
It was the first time in this World Cup an appeal has proved successful in overturning the original verdict. Both men are now free to play in tomorrow’s quarter-final against Australia at Twickenham – if selected.
Scotland coach Vern Cotter last week picked Tim Swinson and Fraser Brown to replace Gray and Ford – but has up to an hour before kick-off to change his team.
The QC Christopher Quinlan, who handed down the original ban for “a dangerous tackle” against Samoa in the face of match referee Jaco Peyper’s advice, not only tainted the character of the two Scottish forwards but caused untold disruption to Scotland’s preparations for today’s game. As SRU chief executive Mark Dodson put it yesterday: “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Instead of plotting the Wallabies’ downfall at Twickenham, Ford and Gray spent two days last week arguing for their professional reputations in Canary Wharf at the opposite end of London and the team ran with their replacements all week.
Scotland have the Honourable Justice Lex Mpati from South Africa to thank as he chaired the three-man appeals panel, which also included former Wallaby coach Robbie Deans and Justice Graeme Mew of Canada. The trio determined that the challenge by Ford and Gray on Jack Lam in last Saturday’s Pool B match was not dangerous because the Samoan flanker “had not been dropped or driven”.
The successful appeal begs the question of what Mpati spotted on the video replays that somehow eluded Quinlan, who chaired the original judicial hearing following a citing by an independent commissioner from Australia.
In a statement issued yesterday, World Rugby said: “Having conducted a detailed review of all the evidence, including new submissions from the players and their representatives, along with all available camera angles, the Appeal Committee dismissed the finding that the players had committed an act of foul play as the player had not been dropped or driven and therefore the tackle was not dangerous. The players are therefore free to play again immediately.”
Cotter is now in the unenviable position of having to decide whether to change his team or stick to his guns and leave the squad well alone.
Alternatively, and more likely, Cotter could opt to field the same starting XV and instead name “the Guildford Two” among the substitutes in the expectation that they can still play an important part in today’s match off the bench. If Scotland are within sight of the Wallabies at half time it would offer an immeasurable boost to the team to see Ford and Gray enter the fray fuelled by a furious and righteous indignation.
We just don’t know and nor are we likely to find out until this afternoon. Since two players have been sprung from World Rugby’s Kafkaesque disciplinary process after the deadline for the original team announcement, Cotter now has the freedom to keep his match day 23 under wraps until one hour before today’s 4pm kick-off. In the big scheme of things it isn’t much of an advantage but since it is one of the few available to him, the Kiwi is likely to grab it with both hands.
A Scotland spokesman would only say: “Both Ross and Jonny are available to play and the Scotland team are considering their options.”
Dodson, meanwhile, remains angry that the Scots have been made to fret on the case all week. He said: “We are delighted to see justice has been done. Ross and Jonny are now free to rejoin the tournament, ahead of the biggest game for Scottish rugby in recent years.
“We find it hugely disappointing they were put in this position by a judicial process which is inconsistent and unfair. Justice delayed is justice denied.
“It is regrettable that this has overshadowed a massive week for the sport and our focus continues to be on the match against Australia.”