Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Judiciary 'failing players'

People in key roles aren't delivering on sanctions, says players association chief.

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw was kneed and headbutted by Wallabies flanker Scott Higginbotham during the Bledisloe Cup. Photo / Getty Images
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw was kneed and headbutted by Wallabies flanker Scott Higginbotham during the Bledisloe Cup. Photo / Getty Images

New Zealand's top rugby players are "bamboozled" by an inconsistent judiciary which is failing them and the public, says representative Rob Nichol.

The New Zealand Professional Rugby Players' Association chief has attacked a system which has allowed Wallabies flanker Scott Higginbotham to walk away with a two-match ban after kneeing and headbutting All Blacks captain Richie McCaw in Saturday's drawn Bledisloe Cup test.

It is the latest in a series of attacks on McCaw by opposition players, with Nichol also criticising the lenient one-test ban handed to Springboks prop Dean Greyling for his elbow to the 31-year-old's face in Dunedin last month, an act and sanction which Nichol described as "shocking".

"If it's a mistake, fine, but if you go back and look at that South African prop who flew in with the elbow in a deliberate attack, that was just a shocker.

"To think that he got a two-week ban and missed only one test match because of it, that's a joke. How can someone decide that that was a relatively minor case of foul play? That was a very serious act of foul play. He went in with the intention of taking someone's head off."

Nichol said professional players had no tolerance for foul play now there was so much at stake in the game. He will be involved in reviewing the Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup series and said it was crucial changes were made to restore the faith of players and public in the judicial system.

Under International Rugby Board guidelines, which Sanzar follow, the starting point for striking with the knee and head is three and four weeks respectively. Nichol said it could be argued that Higginbotham's acts were mid-range, which are eight weeks and 10 weeks respectively.

Instead, Higginbotham was given two weeks for each count by duty judicial officer Jannie Lubbe, a South African, who also decided that the bans should be served concurrently, meaning two weeks in total.

"The framework is there, but the support and expertise isn't," Nichol said. "The people in the key roles aren't delivering and consequently the application of sanctions that people need to see to gain confidence in the system isn't happening. We need to get it right.

"Talking to the players, they are bamboozled by it as well.

"It's a really important area of the game. There's a lot at stake for the players. They are going out on the field and have to be focused on their jobs rather that whether someone is going to take their head off.

"The days of that happening are over. The players have no tolerance for that sort of crap any more."

Lubbe presided over the Quade Cooper case last year after the Wallabies first-five kneed McCaw in the head during Australia's victory in Brisbane. Cooper received no sanction.

In his Higginbotham finding, Lubbe stated: "the hitting with the knee was more of a bump than a hit. The headbutt was reckless and not executed with much force. McCaw was not injured and play resumed".

Mitigating circumstances were Higginbotham's early guilty plea, his "exemplary disciplinary record" and the fact that the loose forward "placed on record that he and McCaw shook hands after the match and that there are no ill feelings". After the match, McCaw said he was annoyed and frustrated by the incidents.

Lubbe is within his rights to give Higginbotham a discounted sanction if he feels it is appropriate. Because Higginbotham pleaded guilty, there is no right of appeal for the New Zealand Rugby Union or any other party. APNZ

- APNZ

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