Another Sanzaar Wrist Slapping!

Akker van der Merwe and Schalk Brits were involved in an scrap that resulted in both players being shown the red card in the game between the Sharks and the Bulls on the weekend of 30thMarch.

The scrap started over the ball, when Van der Merwe charged into the ruck and deliberatey headbutted Brits, who was on the ground in the ruck. Brits retaliated, somewhat ineffectually with a push/shove “punch” to the side of Van der Merwe’s head. Van der Merwe then escalted the confrontation to an all-out attack on Brits, rolling away from the ruck and pinning Brits to the ground and flailing away at his face and head with multiple closed fist punches as Brits tried to push him away.

(You can view the video of the incident by clicking on the featured picture at the top of this article.)

During this attack,in my opinion, there was a very obvious moment of fingers clawing at the face and eyes of Schalk Brits – the TV commentators mentioned the words “eye gouging” during the live broadcast.

Akker van der Merwe appeared before Sanzaar’s Foul Play Review Committee today, and they have slapped him with a three-week suspension.

3 weeks??? 

For a head-butt, multiple punches to the face and head, and an attempt at eye-gouging?

I quote from the official media release:

“The SANZAAR Foul Play Review Committee accepted a guilty plea from Armand van der Merwe for contravening Law 9.12: A player must not physically abuse anyone, after he was red carded during a Super Rugby Match at the Weekend.

Van der Merwe has been suspended from all forms of the game for three weeks, up to and including April 19, 2019.

The incident occurred in the 58th minute of the Round Seven match between at Kings Park in Durban.

The SANZAAR Foul Play Review Committee of Adam Casselden (Chairman), Stefan Terblanche and Eroni Clarke assessed the case.

In his finding, Foul Play Review Committee Chairman Adam Casselden SC ruled the following:

“Having conducted a detailed review of all the available evidence, including all camera angles and additional evidence, including from the player and submissions from his legal representative, Attie Heyns, the Foul Play Review Committee upheld the Red Card under Law 9.12.”

“With respect to sanction the Foul Play Review Committee deemed the act of foul play merited a mid-range entry point of six weeks due to the World Rugby instructions that dictate any incident of foul play involving contact with the head must start at a mid-range level. The evidence demonstrated the player contacted the opposing player’s head with multiple punches. However, taking into account mitigating factors including the player’s good judicial record and the fact the player has pleaded guilty at the first available opportunity, the Foul Play Review Committee reduced the suspension to three weeks.”

“The player is therefore suspended for three weeks, up to and including 19 April 2019.”

All SANZAAR disciplinary matters are in the first instance referred to the Foul Play Review Committee to provide the option of expediting the judicial process.

For a matter to be dispensed with at this hearing, the person appearing must plead guilty and accept the penalty offered by the Foul Play Review Committee.

What?

I have to ask the question that has been asked so many times before: What exactly are Sanzaar thinking with their weirdly soft application of some very clear written regulations and guidelines for dealing with foul play?

Foul Play Review Committee deemed the act of foul play merited a mid-range entry point of six weeks due to the World Rugby instructions that dictate any incident of foul play involving contact with the head must start at a mid-range level.

That much they have got right, but then things go a little crazy.

If they had supposedly watched the television footage of the incident from all camera angles, then they surely could not have missed the moments when a) Akker van der Merwe went into Brits head first, and b) when Akker van der Merwe clawed at Schalk Brits’ face? 

And any reading of Appendix 1 of Regulation 17 says that the midrange entry point for “Contact With Eye Area” is 8 weeks. If they deem it “Reckless Contact with Eyes”, the midrange entry point becomes 12 weeks, and if that contact with the eyes was intentional, then the mid-range point is 18 weeks.

But before all that: The entire incident was triggered by a head-butt. 

Regulation 17 dictates a 10-week mid-range entry point for that little bit of argy-bargy.

Where does the 6-week entry point come from?

I will tell you that the Sanzaar committee decided that it was just an incident of “Punching or striking with hand or arm (including stiff-arm tackle)” which calls for a 6-week midrange entry point.

I guess multiple strikes only count as one transgression?

Not only have the Sanzaar Foul Play Review Committee actively avoided dealing with the more serious moments of Akker van der Merwe’s assault on Schalk Brits, they then went further and told us that “taking into account mitigating factors including the player’s good judicial record and the fact the player has pleaded guilty at the first available opportunity, the Foul Play Review Committee reduced the suspension to three weeks.”

Without the shadow of a doubt, Akker van der Merwe is guilty of transgressing Law 9, Foul Play. Even someone unschooled in legal matters and minutiae would have suggested guilt after seeing the incident.

Van der Merwe admitted that himself – it would have been rather difficult to plead innocence given the television footage that was broadcast to the world at large!

But somehow he must be rewarded for admitting he is guilty??

And then the Sanzaar suits have the cheek to suggest that the sentence was also reduced because of Van der Merwe’s “good judicial record”………………..

I know it is the 1stof April, and that this is the day when many people are taken for the fool.

But seriously?

Akker van der Merwe’s good judicial record?

Just a couple of weeks ago, on the 2ndof March, Van der Merwe spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin after seeing a yellow card when his disciplines deserted him against the Stormers.

This “previously good record” and rapid “admission of guilt” are the most frequent mitigating factors rolled out by Sanzaar’s judicial officers, when they sentence someone who has transgressed the Laws of Rugby, and in doing so make a mockery of rugby’s entire system of penalties and sanctions for transgressing the Laws.

If we compare Sanzaar’s sanctions to a simple selection of those dished out elsewhere in the rugby world, we have to suggest that Sanzaar must hang its collective head in shame.

In November last year Romania’s Julian Hartig received 7 weeks for a high tackle, Juan Nicola of Uruguay received 6 weeks for spitting in the direction of an opponent. 

In September last year Jake Pope of Sale got four weeks for “attempting to strike an opponent a number of times, one attempt may or may not have made contact with the opponent”… 

In December 2018 Christophe Browne of London Irish was suspended for 5 league games for head-butting an opponent. 

Nicholas Sharpe of Huddersfield got five weeks for slapping an opponent…. He denied having done so!

Now not a single one of the above incidents happened in a First Class game – the first two were U/20 games at the U/20 World Cup,  and the rest occurred in lower league club rugby matches in England.

None of the games were high-profile Super Rugby matches broadcast to the world on television.

I have to ask what message is Sanzaar sending out to the world? And to the kids that will one day become rugby players? To the prospective fans of our game?

I, for one, am disgusted at the leniency of the sanctions applied by Sanzaar’s judiciary. I have long spoken out about this, you will find numerous articles about this issue in the archives on this website…..

I remain disgusted.

If you are interested:

Schalk Brits will appear before a Sanzaar Judicial Committee Hearing on Tuesday.

For those who have not perused Regulation 17 and the schedule of “entry points” for assessing sanctions, herewith the schedule for breaches of Law 9.12:

9.12      A player must not physically abuse anyone.  Physical abuse includes, but is not limited to:

BitingLow-end: 12 weeksMid-range: 18 weeksTop-end: 24+ weeksMax: 208 weeks
Intentional Contact with Eye(s) (5)Low-end: 12 weeksMid-range: 18 weeksTop-end: 24+ weeksMax: 208 weeks
Reckless Contact with Eye(s) (6)Low-end: 6 weeksMid-range: 12 weeksTop-end: 18+ weeksMax: 208 weeks
Contact with Eye Area (7)Low-end: 4 weeksMid-range: 8 weeksTop-end: 12+ weeksMax: 52 weeks
Punching or striking with hand or arm (including stiff-arm tackle)Low-end: 2 weeksMid-range: 6 weeksTop-end: 10+ weeksMax: 52 weeks
Striking with the elbowLow-end: 2 weeksMid-range: 6 weeksTop-end: 10+ weeksMax: 52 weeks
Striking with shoulderLow-end: 2 weeksMid-range: 6 weeksTop-end: 10+ weeksMax: 52 weeks
Striking with headLow-end: 6 weeksMid-range: 10 weeksTop-end: 16+ weeksMax: 104 weeks
Striking with kneeLow-end: 4 weeksMid-range: 8 weeksTop-end: 12+ weeksMax: 52 weeks
Stamping or TramplingLow-end: 2 weeksMid-range: 6 weeksTop-end: 12+ weeksMax: 52 weeks
TrippingLow-end: 2 weeksMid-range: 4 weeksTop-end: 8+ weeksMax: 52 weeks
KickingLow-end: 4 weeksMid-range: 8 weeksTop-end: 12+ weeksMax: 52 weeks