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Why 'credible witness' Dickson in Skinner case was treated differently at Ewers hearing

By Liam Heagney

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Evidence submitted by referee Karl Dickson at the Sam Skinner disciplinary hearing was extensively cross-examined by Exeter before the independent committee hearing the case concluded: “The referee was a credible witness who gave compelling and balanced evidence.”

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Skinner was red-carded by Dickson early in the second half of last Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership match between Exeter and Sale for a collision with Faf de Klerk and his four-game ban starts with this weekend’s semi-final rematch between the same two clubs. 

Second row Skinner wasn’t the only Exeter player to come away with a season-ending four-match suspension as back-rower Dave Ewers was cited and banned for his yellow-carded offence when tackling Simon Hammersley. It was Wednesday morning when the verdicts were made public but unlike with previous panel decisions, the written judgments weren’t initially available detailing what was said at the hearings. 

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Those judgments have since been published on the RFU website and the summary will hardly placate fuming Exeter boss Rob Baxter, who used his midweek media briefing to hit out at the inconsistencies allegedly going on in the game regarding disciplinary decisions by officials on the pitch and then how players are treated without empathy at the resulting hearings. 

The inconsistency regarding last Saturday game was how an initial red card for Exeter forward Ewers was talked down to a yellow card sanction due to mitigating factors but no mitigation was found in the tackle Skinner was involved in, a decision that was reached at a much quicker pace than the Dickson deliberations over the Ewers incident.

In the written judgment it was said: “The referee was subject to extensive, if courteous, cross-examination but remained clear in his view that the (Skinner) incident had merited a red card. He rejected the proposition that there had been a drop in de Klerk’s height, which should have seen a yellow card issued. In his view, there had not been a significant drop in height. Similarly, he did not consider the fact that the player had started low to have been significant, as he had then driven up into de Klerk rather than through him. 

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“He accepted there had been an attempted wrap but noted that had there been no attempt at a legal tackle, such as to have rendered it intentional or highly reckless, he would not have needed to go on to consider whether any mitigating factors were present. 

“He disagreed that he had reached a decision without giving the matter proper consideration. He had spoken with his assistant referee who was clear that there were no grounds to take the red card down to a yellow and he had reviewed the footage carefully on the big screen. He had listened to what his TMO had said but did not consider that de Klerk was falling into the tackle.

“His review of an earlier incident (involving Ewers) had taken longer because it had taken more time for the TV producer to locate all relevant camera angles.

“It was put to him that contact was shoulder to shoulder and the referee was firm in his view that there had been direct contact shoulder to head. He noted that de Klerk’s head had rocked backwards in a whiplash movement. In his view, there had been a high degree of danger due to the force used. This led to a starting point red card. No mitigating factors were present to reduce the sanction to a yellow card.”

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In his evidence, Skinner insisted that he felt the collision was soft, that he had not used high force and was letting the power come from de Klerk, whom he claimed was dropping into the tackle. In the end, though, the panel found: “The referee was a credible witness who gave compelling and balanced evidence. Skinner’s initial position was shaped to make a low, lawful tackle but he then drove upward into de Klerk and contact was made by the player’s left shoulder direct to the head. The player’s case that contact was indirect was rejected.

“The player’s argument that de Klerk’s height had dropped was accordingly not accepted. The panel also did not accept the player’s suggestion that he had effected a passive tackle and had in fact been knocked back by de Klerk. The submission on behalf of the player that the referee had not taken enough time in making his decision or given enough consideration to the TMO was not accepted.”

While the Dickson red card decision was ultimately backed by the disciplinary panel, his yellow card decision regarding Ewers wasn’t supported by citing commissioner Paul Hull whose decision that there was a red card case to answer ultimately resulted in the four-game ban for the Exeter flanker. It has since emerged that the uncapped Ewers was set for an England call-up this summer, a revelation contained in the written judgment.  

Hull wrote: “Dickson determines due to the spin out of the second tackle, there is mitigation to escalate down from a red card to a yellow. I disagree due to Ewers starting high and finishing high, with clear sight and having time to adjust due to the first two attempted tackles, he made contact to the head with force and with a high degree of danger… I have found that this high tackle meets the red card threshold and have awarded a full citing.”

In supporting Hull’s decision to cite, the disciplinary committee decided: “There had been no significant change in Simon Hammersley’s height to mitigate the red card down to yellow. In the panel’s assessment, the citing commissioner had been correct in concluding that Hammersley’s height had stayed fairly even. There had been some change in Hammersley’s direction as he spun out of the tackle, but not such as to reduce the sanction to a yellow card.”

  • Click here to read the judgment from the Skinner hearing.
  • Click here to read the judgment from the Ewers hearing

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Why 'credible witness' Dickson in Skinner case was treated differently at Ewers hearing

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