Gregor Paul on rugby

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Higginbotham must be hit hard

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Scott Higginbotham. Photo / Getty Images
Scott Higginbotham. Photo / Getty Images

Enough is enough, an example has to be made out of Scott Higginbotham. The Australian flanker's attack on Richie McCaw is not the worst crime that has been committed on the All Black skipper - although it was cheap and ugly - but it is the one that has tipped the balance.

McCaw shrugs off the endless physical abuse. He's had fingers in the eyes, knees to to the head, punches and stomps all over. He said the knee to his face from Higginbotham midway through the first half was annoying, nothing more.

It's typical of McCaw that he doesn't want to dwell on it, make a fuss or whinge. He sees the acts of lunacy as part of the package, an occupational hazard. But even his patience is being tested by the relentlessness of it.

Even he's beginning to wonder why officials continue to let it happen with so little sanction. How on earth could Higginbotham's actions have been missed by the match officials? And now, with the incident left to be dealt with by a judiciary hearing, chances are Higginbotham will be slapped with a wet fish.

Everyone else who has been in the dock for assaulting McCaw has pretty much got away with it.

Some, such as England's Dylan Hartley, have got away entirely - haven't even been cited. Quade Cooper was cited but not punished and others such as Dean Greyling, who could have smashed McCaw's jaw in Dunedin, have had pathetic sentences handed down.

The IRB apparently sees McCaw as fair game. Officials don't seem to particularly care when he's the subject of foul play. Craig Joubert didn't seem at all interested in investigating why the two packs were going for each other after Higginbotham's attack. The IRB were not interested at all in investigating the eye-gouging incident in the World Cup final. Aurelien Rougerie clearly did something to the skipper - probably would have even admitted it if anyone had ever asked - but the governing body covered it all up.

Surely now something has to be done? Higginbotham has to be hammered - handed a punitive sentence that does two things. Firstly, it needs to put put a message that world rugby bosses have noticed what is going on: that is, that they realise that the best player in the game is being battered by hackers and lugs with barely half his ability.

Secondly, it would, possibly, serve as some kind of deterrent. Part of the reason players keep going for McCaw is they don't fear the ramifications. An eight-week suspension for Higginbotham would help him feel a little remorse.

- Herald on Sunday

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