THE inconsistency of rugby disciplinary action has reared its head again after Scotland centre Nick de Luca was handed a 13-week ban for a dangerous tackle, ending his season, while Ireland prop Cian Healy had his ban reduced.
De Luca was guilty of the kind of tip-tackle that authorities have been striving to clamp down on, where a player is lifted in the air and then dumped towards the ground head-first.
The Edinburgh player tip-tackled Ospreys’ Tom Grabham in Friday night’s RaboDirect PRO12 match and deservedly received a straight red card.
He appeared before an independent disciplinary committee comprising Irish trio Michael Coghlan, Dr Barry O’Driscoll and David Hurley in Dublin yesterday and they decided that the offence was at the top end of seriousness, which can carry a suspension of anything from 12 to 52 weeks. The committee then added a week to the bottom-end tariff, after taking into account “aggravating and mitigating factors”.
At the same time a Scottish panel was ruling on Healy’s appeal against a three-week ban for a vicious stamp on the exposed ankle of England prop Dan Cole during the RBS Six Nations Championship match at Lansdowne Road. Cole was considered fortunate not to have suffered a broken ankle in an act roundly criticised by commentators, including former Ireland captain Keith Wood, and which was one of several incidents of ill-discipline from Healy during the game. The original panel surprisingly deemed it to be at the lower end of the indiscipline chart and reduced the ban further to three weeks due to the player’s admission of guilt. However, the Six Nations authorities opened itself up to ridicule when they insisted that the ban would not start until after the following weekend, yet he would not be free to play that weekend for his club Leinster, effectively handing him a four-week suspension, and have now paid the price for that decision with Healt having the ban reduced by a week by the independent Six Nations Disciplinary Appeal Committee, chaired by Professor Lorne Crerar (Scotland) along with Antony Davies (England) and Rod McKenzie (Scotland). He will, therefore, return to action on Sunday, meaning he will have missed two games – Scotland and France – but be free to play in Ireland’s final match against Italy.
De Luca, who also has the right of appeal, deserved a lengthy punishment for a tackle that can have serious consequences, if it did not on this occasion, but there is no clear reason why his ban is worth ten weeks’ more than Healy’s. His suspension concludes at midnight on Sunday 26 May 2013