Lions flanker Michael Rhodes was deservedly banned until the end of July for his dangerous headlock on Siale Piutau last Saturday.
But Piutau, who punched Rhodes twice in the head in retaliation, was let off the hook because of the “exceptional circumstances” surrounding his case.
“Whilst the player admitted to foul play he had been seriously compromised in the incident involving Rhodes,” judicial officer Nick Davidson said.
“Piutau’s reaction was that of someone who had been seriously endangered and to impose a sanction in these circumstances would not reflect the effect on Piutau of the incident and a reaction that was the product of shock rather than retaliatory intent.”
Excuse me? What was he smoking?
How many rugby players haven’t been the victims of dangerous play? Stiff-arms, clean-outs, high tackles, you name it – since when have they been allowed to punch back?
Judge Jeff Blackett, who chaired the hearing, said Tuilagi should have been suspended for 10 weeks, saying his actions were “very damaging to the image of the game”. But his ban was halved because of his youth, admission of guilt, remorse and that he was considered to have been provoked by Ashton.
For as long as I have been watching rugby – since the 1970s – retaliation has never been considered an appropriate defence for punching. No matter the provocation.
Punching on the rugby field is illegal. Period.
But the decision to let Piutau off without any sanction raises a dangerous precedent in rugby (it also sets a terrible example for school kids).
You can bet that Davidson’s ruling is going to be used in disciplinary hearings during the upcoming Rugby World Cup – which kicks off in just more than 100 days – to defend the inevitable flying fists.
What Davidson has effectively done is told players that punching can be okay. He has just approved vigilantism; fighting thuggery with thuggery.
He should have at least given Piutau a slap on the wrist, banning him for one match, maybe two or three.
The bottom line is that Davidson’s decision should have echoed the ethos of rugby – punching is not okay.