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Sexton ban doesn’t seem outrageous to me – Andy Goode

By Andy Goode
Ireland boss Andy Farrell (right) with Johnny Sexton (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

It won’t go down well in the court of public opinion and social media but I think the independent disciplinary committee got the punishment for Johnny Sexton’s misconduct towards the match officials at the Heineken Champions Cup final just about right.

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How they’ve taken two months to come to a verdict and sanction is beyond me and that has just fanned the flames and made the reaction to it all the more exaggerated but a three-match suspension doesn’t seem outrageous to me.

Referees should be protected, and there are already too many instances of players harassing officials creeping into the sport, so there is no doubt that a ban was warranted but there isn’t really any precedent for this.

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Dylan Hartley was banned for 11 weeks and missed a British & Irish Lions tour a decade ago but he called Wayne Barnes a “f***ing cheat” on the field and his disciplinary record prior to that was far from clean.

Hartley Barnes Premiership red card
(Photo by Tony Marshall/PA Images via Getty Images)

Delon Armitage received an eight-week suspension for using abusive language and pushing a doping officer, again not the same thing at all, and what we saw more recently with Rassie Erasmus’ conduct surrounding match officials is a completely different kettle of fish.

What we should all be able to agree on is that Sexton’s actions were wrong and should not be tolerated but there really isn’t another case you can point to and suggest that the authorities have got this wildly wrong.

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There is also an acknowledgement that the length of ban would’ve been double had it not been for “genuine mitigation” and his disciplinary record is excellent. Much as some people would like to take into account the fact that he is known for having an ongoing dialogue with referees during the course of games, that isn’t the case.

I was a fly half who liked a chat with referees when I could catch my breath and stepped over the line from time to time and Sexton is no different to the likes of Owen Farrell, Dan Biggar and others at the moment in terms of being the ultimate competitor and trying to have his say with officials from the most pivotal position on the pitch but this is different.

He wasn’t playing, was suited and booted and the full written decision details several incidents where Sexton let his frustrations get the better of him and tried to direct his ire towards the match officials.

England Nowell Borthwick <a href=
Six Nations axe” width=”1024″ height=”576″ /> (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
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Other recent incidents involving criticism of officials by Jack Nowell, where no ban was handed out, and Kyle Sinckler, who received a two-week suspension, were cited in the judgement and it’s clear that it’s the optics rather than what was said by Sexton that are most concerning.

If you look at the evidence, it’s not a good look that he used an expletive and said it was a “disgrace the match officials had not got the big decisions right” but that’s the kind of thing we unfortunately hear all too often and there isn’t any detail as to what else he said.

However, you can’t be approaching the officials and gesturing towards them at the end of the game, at the start of the medals presentation and then after they were handed out as well, especially when you weren’t even involved in the game.

Emotions can be high in the heat of battle and we saw that in the Wimbledon final with Novak Djokovic for example, and the commentators took a bit of stick for trying to explain his actions, but there’s no place for what Sexton did in the game and it should be stamped out.

People will question whether a three-game ban is a big deterrent but I just think the independent disciplinary committee can only go off the evidence they have rather than trying to make an example of someone and that’s what they’ve done.

There is also no way in a million years, whatever it might look like, that a panel of people ruling on events in an EPCR competition have just thought that they’ll come up with a punishment that ends just in time for Sexton to be able to play in the World Cup.

Ireland <a href=
Rugby World Cup training squad” width=”1024″ height=”576″ /> (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

For all the tugging on the heartstrings about it being the swansong of one of the all-time greats and the high-profile nature of the man, I’m just not buying that Christopher Quinlan KC, Adam Casselden SC and Marcello D’Orey have been influenced by that.

The Ireland captain will hopefully have learned a lesson from this but it doesn’t make him more of a marked man at the World Cup and, while it isn’t ideal that he’s missing all of his country’s warm-up games, I’m not sure how many of them he’d have played in anyway.

He needs to focus on making sure he’s fully fit before the tournament and then maybe some time off the bench against Romania followed by a start against a tough-looking Tonga team will get him up to speed I’m sure.

I hope this is a line in the sand with regard to this incident after a couple of months of waiting and conjecture but also in terms of the way players speak to referees because we’re seeing more and more unsavoury examples of interactions with them.

I should point out that, while I think they absolutely should be a protected species to a certain extent, I think they should certainly be open to criticism for their performances as long as it’s done in the correct manner and there are many examples where I’ve done so in the media.

I actually think Jaco Peyper did a decent job on this occasion though and players and officials just have to get the balance right when it comes to the way they interact with each other.

Johnny Sexton
Johnny Sexton – Getty Images

Clearly, Sexton was way out of line here and there’s no way he should be acting like that but all the referees I know want to have dialogue with players to a certain degree and build relationships with them.

They know that a totally laissez-faire attitude doesn’t work but an old schoolteacher mentality one doesn’t either, somewhere in between is the happy medium and what we want to see from referees.

Jaco Peyper’s a good bloke, I spoke to him after the game and he said it was a bit hairy but he wouldn’t want a world where he can’t interact with players. Sexton’s actions were unacceptable, he’s been punished and fingers crossed we won’t see similar in future.

All in all, this isn’t a storm in a teacup but it isn’t the worst example of abusing a referee we’ve ever seen either, it is a regrettable and unacceptable episode that has been allowed to rumble on for months. It has finally been dealt with and now we should all be able to move on.

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Comments

7 Comments
W
World 328 days ago

I understand now so if you call out a ref you will get a similar ban as for dangerous play on another player. That is what you call player welfare.

M
Mark 338 days ago

He should have been banned much longer,but world cup takes preference,he is a arrogant rugby player that always carry-on and is over the top and gets away with it,they always saying he is passionate,joke

D
Diarmid 339 days ago

A huge missed opportunity to show kids that rugby is a game in which respect for the referee is and always will be paramount, irrespective as to how much of a star you are. He was abusive and acted menacingly towards the refs during and at the end of a game. When star players forget that rugby is a game in which the referee's decision is final, they need to be made an example of. A six game ban would have been appropriate.

M
Michael Röbbins (academic and writer extraordinair 339 days ago

Oh Andy, “you’re fine but you’re simple.” Can’t stamp out human emotion from the game. This is the same problem English children have suffered for generations: their own fathers telling them to bracket any emotion from normal living. Such a travesty that it infests the game of rugby so much as well. But also why England can’t seem to get it up for the big ones either.

c
carlos 339 days ago

He’s been consistently disrespectful and precious towards referees. There is a long pattern of his self important behavior. So what do you want to see before truly getting upset? That he hits a ref? Do you think this will stop him in any way or that he learnt any “lesson”?

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