Shannon Frizell's 'two-match' ban isn't the punishment it's made out to be
Shannon Frizell won’t feature for the All Blacks next weekend when they square off with the Wallabies in the opening Bledisloe Cup match of the year.
But is that really news?
The 27-year-old loose forward appeared in court this week on assault charges after a late-night incident in a Dunedin bar earlier this year.
Frizell didn’t enter a plea and was offered diversion by the judge, which means that he avoids any charges but must complete a rehabilitation programme of sorts.
Following a misconduct hearing, New Zealand Rugby has decided that a two-game ban is appropriate for the flanker. Without knowing the intricate details of the case, it’s impossible to say whether two matches is a fair response.
Earlier this year, Highlanders chief executive Roger Clark said that he would be “surprised” if any charges were to be laid on Frizell, based on his understanding of the case.
The issue many will have, however, isn’t necessarily with the length of the ban. Two games may seem like a light punishment but, again, unless you have all the details, it’s impossible to say one way or another.
What many should take umbrage with, however, is the impact of the ban.
First and foremost, few would have expected Frizell to suit up against the Wallabies next weekend anyway, whether he was available or not.
While the blindside flanker had another storming season for the Highlanders, his performance against Fiji earlier this month would not have convinced anyone that the 27-year-old is the best man to wear the No 6 jersey for the big matches this year.
Frizell has consistently performed for the southerners in his four Super Rugby seasons to date, showcasing an excellent blend of soft skills and raw physicality. That form has never quite translated into the black jersey, however.
That doesn’t mean he won’t get there eventually – it wasn’t until four years after his All Blacks debut that Jerome Kaino really asserted himself on the international stage. In the here and the now, however, Frizell is not New Zealand’s first-choice blindside flanker.
Akira Ioane has shown in just a handful of test matches that he could have a big future in the black jersey. Dalton Papalii, if fit, is probably also ahead of Frizell in the pecking order while there’s every chance that either Ethan Blackadder or Luke Jacobson could be given a shot on the blindside flank, despite playing their July matches in other positions.
Compared to his fellow squad members, Frizell is also the least versatile of the All Blacks’ current loose forwards, which means a bench spot was also unlikely come next weekend, despite him turning out in the No 19 jersey against Fiji in the final test of July.
All in all, Frizell was never likely to run out next weekend against the Wallabies – and is banning a player from taking part in a game they were unlikely to feature in in the first place really a punishment?
The other game that’s being included in the two-match ban is a Highlanders match that Frizell sat out earlier in the year when the news of the accusations first broke.
At the time, however, Highlanders CEO Clark indicated that Frizell’s absence from the match wasn’t punitive.
“I think it is important for us all to remember at this time, these are all allegations and no charges have been laid,” he said at the time.
“However, these have been a distraction for the player, and the team. And in the best interests of everyone concerned, we are going to omit Shannon from the team this week.”
Now, NZR appear to be retrospectively changing the story surrounding Frizell’s omission from the game against the Reds.
Again, without knowing the details of the case, it’s impossible to argue that a two-match ban isn’t appropriate – but given the games that are being counted towards that stand-down, it almost appears to be a token gesture on NZR’s behalf.
If New Zealand’s governing body felt the charges were unfair, they should have come out in support of their employee. NZR’s head of professional rugby and performance, Chris Lendrum, didn’t give that impression following Frizell’s court appearance, however.
“We are disappointed at this incident and the subsequent assault charges for Shannon,” he said. “Given the seriousness of this incident, we felt that a two-match stand down was warranted.”
All in all, it’s not a great look for New Zealand Rugby.
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