It's poetic justice Wallabies loose forward David Pocock is not playing in Monday's Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Scotland.

Injury has delivered satisfaction World Rugby's judicial process failed to impart, leaving instead an impression of inconsistency or expediency.

Watch the video. Pocock is held back and retaliates by kneeing Welsh hooker Scott Baldwin in the chest. Baldwin seemed hurt, lying on the ground for a few phases. That's it. No ban for Pocock in a tournament which has taken the policing of foul play to new levels of self-flagellation.

So far, suspensions add up to 18 separate offences, totalling bans of 49 weeks. What other sport so successfully and systematically rids itself of its own players during its most important tournament?


No one can deny foul play needs careful policing. It also needs balance, consistency.

Somehow Ireland flanker Sean O'Brien got only one week for punching French lock Pascal Pape in the midriff during their match last weekend. Yet Samoa's Alesana Tuilagi copped five weeks (later reduced to two on appeal) for running with the ball and a raised knee against Japan.

O'Brien's blow raised the question whether it was revenge for Pape's knee in the back of Ireland No 8 Jamie Heaslip in this year's Six Nations - breaking three vertebrae. Look at Pape's knee in that video. The French have sworn blue there was no foul intent but, to these eyes, it seemed assault disguised as accident.

Heaslip graciously accepted an apology from Pape who was banned for 15 weeks, reduced to 10 after his pretty apology (one of the few times you will ever see the word "pretty" in the same sentence as a French forward).

Revenge on Pape didn't seem a factor. O'Brien was held back and lashed out at him in a spot of vigilante justice.

Let's just pause and assess all that, shall we?

-Pape knees a player, seemingly with intent, causes injury - gets 15 weeks, 10 with an apology.

-Pocock knees a player, seemingly with intent, causes injury - gets a warning (the equivalent of a yellow card which admittedly could come into play later in the tournament).


-Pape illegally impedes O'Brien, is introduced to the Irish Correction Society, Pape is briefly injured; O'Brien gets a week. Pape free to play against the All Blacks.

Meanwhile, two Scottish forwards are banned for three weeks by an Australian official for an innocuous, unintentional tip tackle which resulted in no injury and which seriously weakened Scotland for their quarter-final against Australia. Hmmm.

Rugby has become too PC, too nanny state, too solicitous for its own good. In penalising those who retaliate, they also forget about the original wrongdoers. Neither Baldwin nor Pape received any penalty for offences which were cheating.

The best example of such an incident correctly refereed came when former All Blacks captain Wayne Shelford, in a World Cup quarter-final in 1987, knocked out Wales lock Huw Richards who had been beating up on Gary Whetton. The referee waited for Richards to regain consciousness before sending him off. Shelford remained on the field.

Times journalist Stephen Jones, a Welshman detested by many Kiwis before he was muffled behind a paywall, was apoplectic. "New Zealand's day of shame!" he roared from the press benches at the time, proving journalists really do talk in headlines. A New Zealand scribe countered: "Welshman woken up to be sent off." Laugh? We couldn't eat our leeks.

OK, maybe Shelford should have gone, too, but those far-off days, when biff abounded, at least had a kind of crude nobility. There was implied assent that correction came if the original crime wasn't detected, before rugby got all bent out of shape about retaliation.


The biff sometimes carried its own punishment. Former Wales and Lions hooker Bobby Windsor once asked one of his test props to belt a French frontrower disrupting the scrum by biting Windsor's ear. The prop did so but Windsor's ear was in the Frenchman's mouth at the time. Windsor suffered 16 stitches when the prop's jaw slammed shut with the impact. The newspaper headline of the day? "Windsor a la carte."
No one really wants to go back to the biff, even if there is some nostalgia. But self-policing almost seems preferable to the tedium of after-the-fact lawyers poring over footage of matches for offences sometimes comparable to being kicked by a butterfly.

Foul play has to be censured or mums will not allow their little Olivers and Tarquins to play the game, but there has to be a balance between the likes of Pocock getting off Scot-free, as it were, for the same sort of offence as Pape's while Pocock's obstructor also escapes unpunished. Even the referee felt the two Scots had received sufficient punishment without being suspended - but commonsense was vetoed.

Time for a re-think.