Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Tour woes drove Super judicial process

Blues wing George Moala received a quick one-week suspension for this hit on Highlander Buxton Popoali'i. Photo / Richard Robinson
Blues wing George Moala received a quick one-week suspension for this hit on Highlander Buxton Popoali'i. Photo / Richard Robinson

The extraordinary ineptitude of the Six Nations judicial process as evidenced in November last year has been the driver for Sanzar's much-improved disciplinary system in 2013.

Super Rugby bosses vowed at the end of last year to improve the consistency and expediency of the judicial process - to ensure that players facing allegations of foul play were dealt with fairly and quickly.

Sanzar has arguably become the world leader in this area, having identified several ways to make the system less baffling.

One of the key developments has been the advent of a non-prejudicial pre-hearing. Players have the ability to inquire about the likely sanction they would face if they plead guilty.

The one-week suspension handed to Blues wing George Moala less than 24 hours after his 'dangerous' tackle on Buxton Popoali'i the best example of this concept's effectiveness.

Moala was able to plead guilty and agree that he would accept sanction without the need for a full hearing. On that basis, the duty judicial officer was able to determine that the tackle was clumsy rather than malicious and that Popoali'i was falling as he was hit.

The system has also been helped by the introduction of the trial laws that allow for on-field use of video replays to determine suspected foul play. Coaches and players feel the ability to sanction someone for foul play at the time - either with a yellow or red card - is a more natural form of justice. The evidence suggests judicial officers and citing commissioners feel largely the same way, as only one case this season - Ben Funnell of the Crusaders - has been brought to a hearing without being detected on the field when it happened.

The third component Sanzar has introduced is a smaller team of judicial officers so that when a full hearing can't be avoided, there is greater likelihood of a consistent outcome.

"By reducing the number of people involved," says Sanzar chief executive Greg Peters, "we are limiting the subjective element. Every case is subject to some degree of subjectivity but we want to reduce the amount. We are striving for continual improvement. We have always had the goal of consistency and expediency and there have been a few examples this year of the system really working well."

Peters says that Sanzar wants disciplinary hearings to be conducted by the Monday following the weekend's action and judicial officers are under pressure to have their findings made public within 24 hours of any hearing.

Peters says the changes in the Sanzar system are partly the result of learning the hard way from the bumbling antiquated ways of the Northern Hemisphere.

Every Southern Hemisphere nation that toured Europe last year experienced first-hand the archaic process and glacial speed of the judicial system up there.

The All Blacks suffered plenty - Adam Thomson having to wait almost two weeks before his appeal hearing and Andrew Hore left in limbo for almost four days before his day in the dock, a period in which he had to maintain radio silence while his reputation was besmirched.

Australia, South Africa, Samoa and Tonga all travelled home bemused by inconsistent judicial findings - Rob Simmons was handed eight weeks for a dangerous tackle, while Sitaleki Timani was punished for just one after he was found guilty of punching.

The IRB had hoped that an unprecedented calendar of international contests last November would push rugby's profile to new heights, but much of what happened on the field was overshadowed by the constant harping about the random judicial process.

It was clear by the end of the test window that rugby needed to make giant strides in how it dealt with foul play on and off the field.

"We had our concerns about the length of the process [Six Nations judicial system] and the nature of the process," says Peters.

The IRB is believed to have been impressed by Sanzar's innovation and common sense approach and interest is growing in a similar system in the North ahead of the November test schedule.

- Herald on Sunday

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