Two England squad players have been banned for three games each, adding to the debate about the consistency of sanctions at the elite end of the game. Worcester’s Ted Hill and Leicester’s Dan Kelly have both received three-match suspensions but the two cases underline the slim disciplinary margins under which players now operate.
Hill, Worcester’s captain, was handed a red card five minutes from the end of the defeat against Gloucester for a tip tackle immediately after taking a raised boot to the neck from the Cherry and Whites’ replacement Lloyd Evans. The 22-year-old flanker’s actions were accepted to be unintentional, with the disciplinary panel admitting it was “a slightly unusual” incident which had caused no injury to his opponent, but he was still handed a three-game ban.
Kelly’s ban was for striking with the shoulder or arm after he was cited following the controversial conclusion to Leicester’s game against Saracens at Welford Road. The Tigers were six points behind when Guy Porter was bundled illegally into touch by the opposition scrum-half, Aled Davies. Following a TMO review a penalty was awarded to the home side and they went on to clinch victory but no heed was taken of the subsequent challenge by Kelly on Davies which was later ruled to be worthy of a red card.
Saracens may well consider the verdict of the independent disciplinary panel comprising Mike Hamlin, Rob Vickerman and Martyn Wood is a case of the door being shut after the horse has bolted. Either way, with the two banned players now available for potential inclusion in England’s autumn international squad, at least one leading Premiership coach says he hopes clearer distinctions will be drawn this season between accidental and cynical collisions.
Exeter’s director of rugby, Rob Baxter, is among those who argues players who make only accidental contact with the heads of opponents should not necessarily be shown a red card, either at the time or upon review. The Chiefs had two players, Dave Ewers and Sam Skinner, banned from the Premiership final last season for semi-final offences which Baxter still believes deserved only yellow cards.
“We’ve all got to be aware of the process of protecting players but we also see instances where you go: ‘That’s just a complete accident,’” argues Baxter, encouraged by summer conversations on the subject with the Rugby Football Union and the Rugby Players’ Association.
“There’s an ongoing process that is a lot more along the lines of how I’d like to see it. We’re starting to see a levelling out. I’m a great believer that a red card should look like a red card. Hopefully we’ll start seeing that a bit more now.”
Baxter, meanwhile, is looking forward to welcoming back his Lions tourists against Worcester on Saturday but may choose to delay Jack Nowell’s latest comeback from injury for another week.