Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Head Cases a no brainer

Jean Deysel was banned for only three games for the foul which saw him sent off by ref Rohan Hoffman. Photo / Getty Images
Jean Deysel was banned for only three games for the foul which saw him sent off by ref Rohan Hoffman. Photo / Getty Images

Every nut-job and psycho in the Southern Hemisphere will have rejoiced having seen that Super Rugby values hamstrings more than it does heads.

If ever the judicial system truly didn't make sense, it was this week when Sharks flanker Jean Deysel was banned for just three games after stamping on the face of Crusaders flanker Jordan Taufua.

The message is clear - the head is not sacrosanct. The head is, in fact, fair game and quite an appealing target to those with a thuggish bent.

For the potential damage that can be inflicted against the likely punishment meted, attacking the head has to be about the best investment there is.

No one in New Zealand should be so naive as to think there aren't players from foreign lands with such a spreadsheet in front of them - some grotesque index that weighs up injury inflicted against punishment.

New Zealand's players have a suspicion they were targeted throughout Super Rugby in 2007 and 2011.

Before the last World Cup, in particular, most New Zealand teams sensed the South African sides had upped the level of intimidation.

When the Blues played the Stormers at Eden Park that year, Jerome Kaino, as a renowned All Black enforcer, was subjected to endless off-the-ball treatment. It was more rough than dirty - but the soft stance on filth may encourage teams to up the stakes.

Here's the cold, hard rationale for quietly encouraging a few loose units to partake in professional sabotage. A good boot to the head could see an All Black unable to play for weeks, maybe even months. And the hit man? Well, he'll have three weeks to scrape the human debris off his boots and be back maiming in a jiffy.

If this sounds far-fetched, look at how many times Richie McCaw has been assaulted in test matches. And more worrying yet is his and Kieran Read's history of concussion.

Surely events in the cricketing world have highlighted there is no line players won't cross in the pursuit of what they value most.

The judicial system has failed its players catastrophically with last week's rulings and Sanzar are none too happy about it, either.

The regulations are not theirs. It is the IRB who make the recommendations around the range of punitive measures. It is the IRB who also believe mitigating and aggravating factors have to be considered in the process.

As a principle, it's hard to argue against the notion that every player is entitled to a fair hearing. The danger, though, is once a player can offer justification for his acts, the judicial outcomes can often appear to lack consistency and logic.

A poorly timed but genuinely attempted tackle that ends up being high can land a player a two-week ban, while a self-confessed, deliberate kick to the head earns a three-week ban.

Remember, former Warriors prop Russell Packer is serving a two-year jail sentence for kicking someone in the head outside a Sydney nightclub.

If the head is sacrosanct, why not make it so?

Philosophically, Sanzar would like a competition that differentiates foul play targeted on players' heads from all other types. Why should it matter if there was provocation in the Deysel case? Why would it matter that he had a clean record before stomping on Taufua?

If rugby is serious about protecting players' heads, then the right to a hearing could be removed when it comes to incidents such as the one witnessed in Christchurch.

If guilt is established, impose a minimum 26-week ban. No right of appeal, no leaning on rugby's outdated code that it's a man's game being ruined by political correctness. A straight ban. Supposed provocation or justification won't matter. Kick someone's head and you are gone.

That would not only elevate beyond question the seriousness of the offence but also bring consistency and unification to the game's current effort to change attitudes and cultures towards the management of concussion.

The Deysel decision came only a few days after the IRB reaffirmed their commitment to force head knocks to be taken seriously.

"Concussion management and education sits at the very top of the player welfare strategies aimed at informing, supporting and protecting players at all levels of the game," IRB chief executive Brett Gosper said. "Concussion is a serious public health issue."

And yet, while the IRB fight this battle on one front, they send out mixed messages through the weaknesses of their judicial system. The only deterrent to Deysel and others stomping on heads is the fear they may tweak a hamstring in the process - a minor strain would keep them out for four weeks.

Even back in the old days when there was just a hint of rugby poking out between the violence, the head was sacrosanct. Rugby needs to find a way back to that place.

- Herald on Sunday

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